House Speaker Michael E. Busch offers his initial reaction to Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed budget. (Erin Cox/Baltimore Sun)
Still fuming at what they consider the partisanship of Gov. Larry Hogan's State of the State address, the General Assembly's Democratic leaders predicted Thursday that most of the governor's legislative agenda would fail.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, speaking separately, vowed to protect Maryland's K-12 schools and transportation system from Hogan's tax-cut plans. And they saw flaws in nearly every proposal Hogan unveiled in Wednesday's address.
They said Maryland needs a growing pot of money from its gas tax to pay for long overdue road and transit projects. Miller dismissed Hogan's call for the elimination of income taxes on military and police pensions, saying the state could not favor certain constituency groups at the same time education funding formulas were being scaled back.
The only Hogan proposal that Miller held out hope for was the governor's plan to make it easier for charter schools to open in Maryland.
"Other than that, I see very little in that speech that's going to become law," Miller said.
Busch said he likes the state's current law on charter schools.
Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the speech and the reaction to it suggest a possible return to the confrontations that marked the tenure of the previous Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
"This does not augur well for the next four years," he said.
Miller's and Busch's comments come just two weeks after Hogan's inauguration, when members of both parties expressed optimism about working together in a spirit of bipartisanship. But Democrats contend the Republican governor fell back on campaign rhetoric in Wednesday's speech, trashing the state's record during the past eight years over which they presided.
Miller said he felt blindsided by the "raw politics" of Hogan's remarks. Busch objected to Hogan's bleak portrayal of conditions in Maryland, noting that the governor hadn't mentioned the state's high-ranking schools and other assets.
"The governor is still campaigning rather than turning his attention to governing," Busch said. "The tone of the speech was one that talked down to many of the legislators who were here and who made the tough decision to fund priority programs."
Doug Mayer, Hogan's deputy communications director, shrugged off the criticism.
"Governor Hogan has the upmost respect for Senate President Miller as a public servant and as a friend but understands they will be at odds over certain issues," Mayer said. "Let's face it, that State House would be pretty boring if they didn't disagree from time to time. But disagreement doesn't mean the end of bipartisan efforts. In fact, that is where the real work begins."
Miller, who panned Hogan's speech Wednesday, amplified his criticism Thursday, telling reporters it appeared to have been crafted by Republican operatives from other states.
"It's really a sad occasion," Miller said. "I hope he will recover because we all have bad days."
Busch noted that the speech excited Republican delegates, who repeatedly rose to their feet to applaud Hogan's lines. But he said Hogan will need more than GOP support.
"No matter how many times they stood up, you couldn't count to 71," Busch said, referring to the minimum number of votes needed to pass a bill in the House.
Republican lawmakers defended both the tone and the content of the address.
House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said the governor faces a difficult challenge because "many people in the majority party want to see him fail." He rejected Democrats' complaints about the speech's tone by pointing to former Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"The last eight years O'Malley has been campaigning in his speeches for president," said Kipke, of Anne Arundel County. "I'm just glad we have a governor who's all in to fix the problems we have in Maryland."
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said Hogan is a man who "believes in what he says and speaks from the heart."
"He communicated in a way that has everybody talking," the Baltimore County Republican said. "If he ruffled a few feathers, fine, let's put the speech behind us. Let's work together to move the state forward and upward."
Early in the session, it appeared that Miller was prepared to work closely with Hogan and that Busch would be the new governor's main obstacle in a legislature in which Democrats hold a large majority in both chambers.
But the Senate president, who attended some of the governor's recent fundraisers, said Hogan let him down by making a "campaign speech" that portrayed Maryland in an unflattering light.
Now it appears that Miller could be as formidable a roadblock as Busch, who declared his opposition to Hogan's budget proposals as soon as they were announced.
Miller stopped short of a definitive break with Hogan.
"My Irish says never forget, but I'm going to forgive and forget and move on," Miller said.
Miller rejected Hogan's call for repeal of a provision of the 2013 transportation bill that automatically increases the state gas tax to keep up with inflation. Lawmakers included the provision to ensure that the Transportation Trust Fund, largely funded by the gas tax, does not lose buying power when nervous lawmakers decline to raise the levy.
He also ruled out Hogan's proposal to earmark for county governments 30 percent of the trust fund. He noted that local transportation aid has always come out of general fundsand warned that the state could not afford to divert that much transportation money to local projects.
"What state roads is he going to 'X' out to send $900 million to the counties?" Miller said, referring to an estimate of the proposal's impact over six years.
Busch said Hogan's proposal to exempt the pensions of retired military and public safety workers from income tax raises questions of cost and fairness.
"Where do you start and stop? Why not teachers? Why not doctors? Why not nurses?" Busch asked.
Asked which of Hogan's plans he could support, Busch mentioned a proposal to reinstate a voluntary checkoff on tax forms to replenish the fund used for public financing of campaigns. He said there is a potential for agreement on the state's heroin problem, an issue that Hogan mentioned without making a specific policy proposal.
Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican who is a veteran of sessions going back to the 1980s, said the impact of Hogan's speech is being exaggerated.
"Let's acknowledge that there's an unavoidable constitutional crisis that has to be played out," he said.
Under Maryland's Constitution, the legislature must pass a balanced operating budget. Lawmakers have no authority to add spending to a governor's budget proposal, but they can achieve changes through negotiation.