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Daily Record: Franchot, Hogan continue attacks on law limiting BPW

ANNAPOLIS — Comptroller Peter Franchot Wednesday vowed to continue to scrutinize and question school construction projects despite a new law that removes him and the Board of Public Works from any oversight of such projects.

The comptroller and Gov. Larry Hogan raised the issue of the new law again, and their desire to see it repealed, during a review of an $86 million request for two schools in Baltimore City being built by the Maryland Stadium Authority. Franchot questioned the lack of representation from the city at Wednesday’s meeting and again touched on concerns that classrooms in that jurisdiction lacked air conditioning in a week when temperatures are predicted to approach 90 degrees.

Franchot decried the changes made by the legislature as “An (Interagency Commission on School Construction) grab down there from below,” referring to the legislature which meets on the floor below the room where the board meets. “All we’re doing is trying to shine some sunlight on what’s going on with a lot of these schools, and it’s for the benefit of these kids,” Franchot said. “I personally guarantee that the same questions about school construction and school maintenance are going to be made at this board as long as I am a member of it.”

Franchot was joined again by Hogan, who repeated his promise to repeal legislation that he vetoed only to see the legislature override his decision.

“I support these requests,” Hogan said, referring to the stadium authority projects. “I just want to point out, reiterate, what a terrible mistake the legislature made this past session when they passed a irresponsible bill to remove oversight from the Board of Public Works over the expenditure of billions of dollars in taxpayer money for school construction.”

“We are going to repeal this terrible legislation,” said the governor.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp, the third member of the Board of Public Works, chastised her colleagues for their continued grousing.

“I hope at some point we will get off this, probably in November, at the end of November,” said Kopp. “Every other week to be focused on an election campaign it’s just, it gets a little tiresome.”

At one point Hogan and Kopp were speaking over each other, with the governor continuing to express concerns about a lack of oversight of how public funds are spent.

“Obviously the oversight will be there. There’s no question about that,” said Kopp.

The law that was passed over Hogan’s objection switches oversight of school construction funding decisions from the Board of Public Works to an expanded Interagency Commission on School Construction. The law also seeds more authority to the treasurer, who is appointed by the legislature.

The comments came as the board was asked to approve $86 million in contracts for two city school construction projects being undertaken by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The projects are part of the 21st Century Schools program, which is expected to pump $1 billion in additional funding into building modern schools in the city.

The authority, at the request of the city, has also taken over management of school construction projects in the program.

Franchot has irritated lawmakers because of his repeated calls for air conditioning in classrooms in Baltimore County and Baltimore City and for what some see as meddling in local school construction priorities. He repeated his call for air conditioning in city school classrooms as temperatures this week are predicted to approach 90 degrees.

The comptroller vowed to continue to use the board to advocate for and critique school construction funding and renovation choices. On Wednesday, he called out city school officials for failing to be present when the board was asked to approve the contracts. He also raised concerns about the lack of air conditioning in Patterson High School, which he referred to as “the hottest school in Baltimore City.”

“This has nothing to do with elections,” said Franchot. “I’ve been talking about this for eight years. There is a very easy solution that could be done within a month for each of those classrooms.”

Hogan told Franchot that his continued actions and comments on the board may draw additional punishment from the legislature when it reconvenes in January.

“I think the comptroller may have given the legislature a new idea, maybe removing you from the Board of Public Works or maybe abolishing the Board of Public Works,” Hogan said.

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