The state of the state is not that strong, according the Maryland’s new governor. Gov. Larry Hogan’s first state of the state address laid out a broad plan to fix the problems he sees plaguing the state – plans that Democrats who control the legislature are unlikely to pursue.
Throughout a 28-minute speech on Wednesday, Hogan deployed much of the language that served him well on the campaign trail. He said the state has lots of assets, but it’s also beset by problems such high taxes, an anemic economy and too much spending.
“Before I became governor, increases in spending were promised that simply could not be kept. If ever Maryland needed a dose of honesty, it’s now,” he said.
At the center of his ambitious policy agenda, Hogan pledged tax cuts he says would make the state more competitive and business-friendly.
“Maryland’s anti-business attitude, combined with our onerous tax and regulatory policies have rendered our businesses unable to compete with any of the states in our region,” he said.
He took aim at the storm water management fee, also called “the Rain Tax,” called for reductions in income taxes on retirees, taxes on small businesses and the elimination of automatic increases in the state’s gas tax.
The governor laid out nearly a dozen items on his agenda. On the environment, he said everyone knows the Chesapeake Bay is too polluted, but “restoration of our bay must not fall on one group disproportionately. Placing unreasonable burdens upon Maryland’s farmers will serve only to devastate more rural communities.” He called for renewed focus on eliminating upstream sediment from clogging the bay, which would take a hugely expensive dredging project in the Conowingo Dam that Democrats and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have deemed unfeasible.
On education, Hogan promised legislation to increase the number of charter schools in the state and a plan to give tax breaks for donations to private schools. Elsewhere he pledged executive action on heroin addiction and redistricting, and called for campaign finance reform.
Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican, said Hogan focused on the issues concern voters. “They care about taxes. They know that government spending drives taxes. They were upset about the gas tax, they were upset about the rain tax. And those were two issues he hit right off the bat,” she said.
But Democrats gave Hogan’s first major policy speech an icy reception. As he left the chamber, Senate President Mike Miller was angry. “This is a great state and he better damn sight learn it soon enough and start praising our state instead of condemning the wonderful people of the state,” he said.
Miller accused Hogan of low-balling public schools and making an empty promise of income tax cuts for retired first responders and law enforcement
“He’s being Santa Claus and the Grinch at the same time. The Grinch as far as school children and he’s promising things to our first responders, our veterans that he knows can’t be achieved,” he said.
Hogan has taken increasing fire from Democrats who accuse him of underfunding schools by $144 million dollars, despite the governor’s assertion that education is a top priority.
“Saying ‘I’m for education’ is a great applause line,” said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County. “The question is what do you mean by that? How are your class sizes? How about teacher training? Technology in the classroom? Unfortunately, these things don’t fall down like manna from heaven, you have to pay for these things.”
House Speaker Mike Busch said he governor’s gas tax proposal would starve the highway trust fund of money for road projects and kill plans the Purple and Red light rail transit projects in the Washington and Baltimore regions.
“I see no way that the mass transit projects will be able to go forward with the initiatives that the governor is proposing,” Busch said.
Since Hogan took office, bipartisanship has been the buzzword in Annapolis – but that buzz seems to be disappearing fast.