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Harford legislators, county executive react to Hogan's State of the State address

State Sen. J.B. Jennings walked behind Gov. Larry Hogan as he exited the House of Delegates chamber after delivering his fifth annual State of the State address to both houses of the Maryland General Assembly Wednesday afternoon.

Jennings described the moment, which was shown during Maryland Public Television’s live coverage of Hogan’s speech, as part of a tradition in Annapolis. Leaders of the House and Senate escort the governor in and out of the legislative chamber.

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Jennings, a Republican who represents eastern Baltimore County and western Harford and is the Senate minority leader, helped escort Hogan.

Hogan, who was re-elected in November to a second term, is a Republican whose party is the minority in the House and Senate. Working on a bipartisan basis with Democrats was a major feature of Hogan’s speech, as he drew a sharp contrast with the federal government in Washington, D.C. The federal government reopened late last week after a record 35-day partial shutdown, the result of a rift between Republican President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Jennings said the governor “showed how Washington is broken, but Annapolis can work together.”

“Although we may disagree on an issue, we debate and work through it,” he continued.

Jennings noted the State of the State address is where the governor lays out his legislative agenda for the year — the General Assembly’s 90-day session for 2019 started in early January.

Hogan touched on a number of proposals, such as more than half a billion dollars’ worth of tax cuts over five years, supporting people such as retirees, college graduates struggling with student debt, small business owners and law enforcement officers, corrections officers and fire, EMS and rescue personnel.

The governor also discussed proposals in his fiscal 2020 budget, such as supporting transportation repairs, growth of renewable energy development and the alternative-fuel vehicle market, continued efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

He spoke about funding for public education including $4.4 billion in casino funds, as well as greater “accountability” for school systems — his legislative agenda includes establishing the independent Office of the State Education Inspector General.

Hogan also called for legislation to support redrawing Maryland’s congressional districts, and to “bring transparency and accountability to our justice system” with legislation to keep the public informed on the sentences judges hand down to defendants convicted of violent crime, part of a larger effort to reduce violence in Baltimore City and get repeat offenders off the streets.

Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga, the House minority whip whose district covers eastern Baltimore County and western Harford, called the governor’s speech “very uplifting and positive,” citing his comparison between bipartisan cooperation in Annapolis and “gridlock” nearly 35 miles away in Washington.

“[Hogan] called on all of us, senators and delegates, to not be like that, to rise above that kind of rancor and work together to deliver results to the people of Maryland,” Szeliga said Wednesday.

She praised Hogan’s proposals to reduce crime and violence in Baltimore City, as it has affected the surrounding region, “spilling out into Baltimore and Harford counties.”

Szeliga said Hogan’s proposals on redistricting, crime and tax cuts are issues Harford County residents care about.

“He has common-sense proposals to bring reforms to all three areas,” she said.

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Jennings, the Senate majority leader, also expressed support for Hogan’s proposals on redistricting, education, for “judicial transparency” in sentencing and on tax cuts.

He said “tax cuts are always good,” and the state should pursue them as long as it is spending its revenue responsibly and can afford to give tax breaks.

Concerns over tax cuts

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who was present for the speech and was interviewed afterward by Maryland Public Television correspondents alongside Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, expressed concern about tax cuts, however, and their potential impact on revenues the state provides to counties.

“We support tax credits, but we say the state should do it on their side and counties should have a chance to address it how each of us want to address it,” said Glassman, who is also president of the Maryland Association of Counties.

The county executive noted proposals on education funding presented by the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission, could create a greater cost for counties. He said some funding formulas proposed by the commission “would require every county in the state to raise the property tax by 25 cents to fund it.”

“On one hand, we’re concerned about mandating us to spend more money yet also cutting our revenue, too, so we’re going to watch that closely,” Glassman said.

He did praise the governor for continuing to set “a good bipartisan tone to work together” and for working to create safer communities.

Jennings said he understands the county executive’s concerns about tax cuts. He noted that, after tax reform legislation was passed at the federal level in 2017, similar cuts must be enacted at the state level “to ensure that Marylanders will get a tax cut, so I strongly support it.”

Harford County Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, one of two Democrats in Harford’s eight-member House delegation, also expressed concern about proposed tax cuts.

She cited a recent report from the Department of Legislative Services that $62 million worth of reductions are needed to balance Hogan’s proposed 2020 budget.

The governor’s office disagreed with the DLS analysis, though, and noted Maryland’s economy is growing at a faster rate than the budget increases each year, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Lisanti said Hogan “laid out a very ambitious plan for tax cuts,” but the state budget “may not be able to sustain the level of tax cuts that he is proposing.”

She said Maryland’s economy suffered from the federal shutdown, with tens of thousands of federal workers who live in Maryland furloughed and many more contractors without work. Not to mention, another shutdown could happen in two weeks.

Trump and Democratic leaders reached an agreement to reopen the government Jan. 25, with a deadline of Feb. 15 to come to an agreement on border security, or risk another shutdown.

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Lisanti said she was “a bit disappointed” Hogan did not address the economic impact of the shutdown, especially when major economic forecasters have warned state leaders to prepare for a recession in the coming years.

She plans to introduce legislation to diversify Maryland’s economic so it is not so dependent on the federal government. The Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, Harford County’s largest employer, remained open during this year’s shutdown as the Department of Defense Budget had been finalized ahead of time. The post had been closed during the last major federal shutdown in 2013.

“We’ve got to diversify our economy, and we’ve go to prepare for a different economic base moving forward because workers need stability,” Lisanti said.

She did praise Hogan’s appeal to bipartisanship, however.

“He certainly spoke from a middle-of-the-road moderate posture and expressed, very much, a willingness to reach cross the aisle and work with Democrats on very mainstream, middle-of-the-road policies,” she said.

Lisanti said Hogan’s approach is welcome, and “certainly, I will work with the governor on the things we can agree on.”

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