Will Maryland be able to reform the UMMS board before end of session?

The Maryland General Assembly is coming up on Sine Die one week from today, meaning they will no longer be meeting for the rest of the year. And as the Baltimore Sun points out, they’ve got a lot left on their plate to get done. In addition to education funding and bond issues, they still have to resolve the matter of how to reform the University of Maryland Medical System board in the wake of the massive self-dealing scandal that was uncovered last month. Things are beginning to look a bit more promising, but it’s going to come down to the wire.

As Maryland’s lawmakers head into the final days of their annual session, they have plenty of items left on their to-do list: reforming the University of Maryland Medical System board, settling how to pay for increased education spending and deciding whether to issue bonds to improve the Laurel Park racetrack.

Those issues are expected to be among the most hotly debated before the General Assembly adjourns its 90-day session at midnight April 8.

“A lot of the work gets done right here at the end,” Gov. Larry Hogan told reporters Friday. “There’s a whole lot of work left to be done.”

The Speaker of the House has already introduced a bill to deal with UMMS and it certainly has some teeth to it. If it passes, it would require all board members to immediately resign, put an end to no-bid contracts for members and begin an audit of how the system awards contracts. What it seems to fail to do is permanently ban future board members (or state elected officials for that matter) from having contracts with UMMS to begin with.

They’d better hope they come up with something because the stench of the deal that Mayor Catherine Pugh crafted in BookGate is stinking up the entire state. She came out with an “explanation” (and an apology) a couple of days ago, but it satisfied pretty much no one. The Governor himself said it left more questions than answers, and some of the answers only made things worse.

For one thing, Pugh finally stated that her “deal” to sell 100,000 of her children’s books to UMMS for a half million taxpayer dollars (and I’m quoting here) “was essentially a handshake agreement.” Excuse me? Who in the world ever gets a $500,000 deal on a “handshake” with no paper trail, particularly when it’s taxpayer money being spent? Neither the Mayor nor UMMS has provided any sort of documentation. And why would they when the entire thing is such an obvious case of grifting?

But that Healthy Holly scandal isn’t all. The local newspapers have been digging hard and fast into all of the Mayor’s affairs since this news broke and other items are coming to light. For just one example, Pugh moved to a new home last summer. The job of moving all of her belongings went to Allen & Son Moving & Storage. Then, only a couple of months later, the owner of that moving company somehow was awarded a city-owned condominium for far below its appraised value. And who authorized the sale? The Mayor and the Board of Estimates.

The more rocks that get kicked over, the more it looks as if Catherine Pugh has been lining her own pockets and living quite well during her time as Mayor and even back when she was in the state Senate. More details of the self-dealing going on with up to a dozen other members of the UMMS board are expected to be forthcoming. This apple may be rotten to the core, and yet the citizens of Baltimore keep electing the same people over and over again.