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State lawmakers eye tax cuts, guns, transportation

Rachel Baye

Tax cuts, criminal justice reforms and transportation projects are all on the table as state lawmakers return to Annapolis on Wednesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled a plan to cut taxes for retirees, families earning less than $53,000 a year, and small businesses.

With the plan, the Republican governor issued a challenge to the Democrat-controlled legislature.

“I can't imagine any member of the legislature from any party possibly having a problem with providing tax relief to retirees on a fixed income, struggling working families or struggling small businesses," he said. "Anyone that isn't in favor of that probably doesn't deserve to be in the legislature.”

The challenge came just a day before the members of the General Assembly begin to consider a slate of numerous bills drafted before the 2016 legislative session even began.

In addition to the tax cuts, Hogan plans to offer financial incentives to manufacturing businesses that open in parts of Baltimore City, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Hogan said the program would help bring manufacturing jobs back to the state.

"We've lost 28 percent of our manufacturing base because other states were stealing all of our manufacturers," he said. "It was like spearing fish in a barrel."

Police and criminal justice reforms are also at the top of many legislators’ wish lists.

On Monday, a bipartisan state panel offered more than 20 recommendations for improving police relations with the communities they serve, while another state panel recently recommended several criminal justice reforms, such as shortening prison sentences for nonviolent offenders and helping people get treatment for drug addictions. Both groups’ recommendations are expected to turn into legislation.

Some lawmakers are eager to revisit a bill Hogan vetoed last year that would have returned voting rights to former felons during probation. Senate President Mike Miller said a similar measure may be introduced this year.

“Most of us feel that just as we're trying to assimilate people back into society, make certain they have educational opportunities, make sure they have job skills, and make sure they have a job that we let them become full-fledged partners in our state, we don't want to throw up roadblocks," Miller said, "especially if they're making progress, they're not violating probation, going to the classes, learning the trade, and becoming productive members of society."

Miller also hinted at a few gun control measures, such as a ban on carrying firearms on college campuses and restricting people on no-fly lists from purchasing guns.

And transportation issues will see a lot of movement, he said.

Last week, Hogan announced a proposal to spend roughly $2 billion on road and bridge projects. But his decision in the spring to cancel the Red Line transit project in Baltimore has been a frequent source of complaint among advocates.

In addition to some bridge and road projects, Miller said he expects to see new transportation proposals, including something new for Baltimore.

“The final shoe has not dropped yet on the Red Line," he said. "Hopefully the governor's advisors are looking at a way to do more than what they proposed. If they're going to take that much money from Baltimore City, including the billion dollars that the feds were willing to put into the program, then you've got to come up with some alternatives to assist the good people in Baltimore in moving in and around their city.”

To be sure, still more proposals are to come. Lawmakers have also talked about ways to make higher education more affordable, to create equal pay among men and women, and to reduce carbon emissions.