Proponents of creating a statewide board in Maryland to oversee prescription drug prices celebrated it going into effect this month, only for Gov. Larry Hogan to cut the purse strings day later.
The Republican governor announced that money the legislature “fenced off” earlier this year to be used for certain projects, including the drug-price board, will be withheld to help bridge a $961 million budget shortfall.
The more than $245 million set aside for projects and programs included $750,000 to create a five-member prescription drug affordability board, which was passed into law without the governor’s signature and labeled as the first of its kind in the nation.
“It is very important and it is really an emergency for a lot of people. It is no need to play politics on this issue,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park, who helped draft the legislation in the House. “Every single American agrees this is a priority. The more [Hogan] delays it, the more it affects people from getting what they need.”
Vince DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said he remains optimistic this will happen sooner rather than later, emphasizing that about a quarter of Marylanders cannot afford prescription drugs.
“We haven’t even chosen the board members yet,” DeMarco said. “The chair chooses the executive director. At that point, we will need the money.
“The message here is the people of Maryland overwhelmingly wants this to happen,” he said. “It is critical we make this work.”
Hogan announced at a Board of Public Works meeting last week in Annapolis the money wouldn’t be released for projects such as school construction, programs at historically Black colleges and universities and local neighborhood initiatives.
“The legislature … made false promises to special interest groups which they knew would not and could not be fulfilled,” he said. “We must remain vigilant and fiscally prudent and be prepared for the volatility of the national economy.”
For instance, Hogan said, lawmakers cut $90 million from a rainy-day fund and $50 million from the pension fund.
In terms of school construction, the governor will resubmit a plan when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
State law allows the governor to withhold the money.
Although lawmakers approved a $46 billion budget, they axed programs Hogan proposed and implemented their preferred spending measures.
However, the Republican governor will instruct his agencies to find savings within the existing budget and not from the legislature to pay for certain program such as $3.5 million rape testing kits the legislator did put in the budget.
Other measures include $1.3 million in hepatitis C treatments, $125,000 each to fund new positions in the state’s attorney offices in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, and $100,000 grants for local health departments to combat tuberculosis.
“We will not allow critical public safety and health needs to go unmet,” he said.
Initiatives that potentially may not get funded this year include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra ($1.6 million), a physician assistant program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore ($1million) and Prince George’s Community College ($300,000).
Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who also serves on the Board of Public Works with Comptroller Peter Franchot, said Hogan shouldn’t blame the Democratic-controlled legislature after several bills passed with Republican support.
“Governors never like legislators putting their imprimatur on the budgets,” Kopp, a Democrat, said. “It’s not the governor’s budget. It’s not the legislature’s budget. It’s the state budget. “I for one, am very sorry to hear that you’re not going to be funding these very good programs.”