Miller: Gas tax cut would be Hogan's 'worst nightmare and he knows it'

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
A gas tax cut would be Md Gov Hogan's "worst nightmare," Miller said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, despite a cordial breakfast with Gov. Larry Hogan to smooth over friction from Hogan's State of the State speech, continued to offer grim prospects for the new governor's legislative agenda. 

Miller told reporters that repealing part of the state's gas tax would jeopardize years of state projects in the pipeline and cause more painful budget headaches for Hogan.

"That would be his worst nightmare, and he knows it," Miller said Monday night. "We can't do it. We can't repeal the gas tax ... it would devastate our state."

Miller also said that he and Hogan will "agree to disagree" on how much the state can afford for K-12 education, one of the key areas Hogan trimmed to help balance his budget. Miller said he was "confident" the legislature will find more money to apply to schools.

Hogan, who has been in office less than three weeks, was elected in November on a platform of curbing state spending and repealing tax increases. While the initial days of his nascent administration focused on calls for bipartisanship with the Democrat-controlled legislature, the tone shifted in Annapolis after Hogan's speech Wednesday. 

While Republicans were pleased with what they characterized as Hogan's straight talk, Democrats were miffed at how Hogan described Maryland's perceived shortcomings.

Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch called it campaign rhetoric unbecoming of a formal address to the General Assembly. The next day, the two top Annapolis power brokers panned Hogan's legislative agenda and declared most of it dead on arrival. On Friday, the Maryland Senate voted to delay confirmation of five Hogan cabinet nominees for week, citing ruffled feathers from the speech as a key reason.

Since then, Hogan reached out to Miller for conciliatory breakfast on Sunday, aides confirmed, and is scheduling a similar meeting with Busch for this week.

Hogan's spokesman released a statement late Monday saying the governor had "great respect" for both Miller and Busch.

"While he knows they will disagree on certain points, he is also confident they will be able to find many areas of agreement in the coming months,' Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer's statement said. "The governor was elected to reign in spending and cut taxes and he intends to deliver on those commitments to the people of this state.”

Miller said he offered Hogan candid advice on dealing with the Democrat-controlled legislature - including quoting advice Hogan's father, former congressman Lawrence J. Hogan, Sr., had offered Miller.

But Miller declined to offer further details of the discussion, saying only that the pair agreed that they would work together.

"He took my advice, and listened to my advice," said Miller, who has known the governor since Hogan's childhood. 

And Miller softened his rhetoric against two of Hogan's proposals: repeal of the so-called "rain tax" and replenishing the public campaign financing fund. 

Hogan depleted the rarely used fund during his bid for governor this year and proposed a bill that would reinstate a voluntary tax checkoff that would let taxpayers send money to the fund. Miller said he thought the bill had a chance of passing if it were amended to exclude outside groups such as the Democratic or Republican governors associations from also contributing to publicly funded candidates. 

Miller also said he expected repeal of the "rain tax" to pass his chamber, although he doubted it would clear the House of Delegates. Although decried by critics as a tax, it is actually a fee levied by Maryland's biggest jurisdictions to pay for projects that reduce pollution from stormwater that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Some jurisdictions charge as little as a penny while others charge several hundreds of dollars. 

The senate president, who wields deep influence over his chamber, said there simply was not money to pay for the other tax cuts Hogan proposed for charter schools, small businesses, and military and public service retirees, even if it's not popular to say so.

"One of the things about politics, you have to have the guts to be hated," Miller said. "Not one of us here likes to say no to those tax breaks. Anybody can vote for tax cuts. It takes somebody with fortitude in tough times to vote to raise taxes." 

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