Carrying through on a campaign pledge, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday that he is cutting or eliminating more than 100 state fees — including some levies to obtain professional licenses, launch a boat in a state park or search adoption records.
At a State House news conference, Hogan said the cuts will save Marylanders $51 million over five years. And he promised more cuts to come.
"There are far more that we want to do," he said.
The changes he announced are to fees he can cut unilaterally, through administrative action. The governor said many other fee reductions would require the consent of the General Assembly. He suggested he will ask for some, but did not specify which.
The roughly $10 million a year the fee cuts will save Marylanders is a tiny sliver of the state's roughly $40 billion budget, but the administration is counting on the action to bolster Hogan's image as a protector of family budgets and business bottom lines. The governor said the reductions would not require cutbacks in programs, asserting that the state has been charging citizens more than it needed to for many services.
The cuts Hogan is proposing include cutting to $1 the cost of Motor Vehicle Administration-issued identification cards for homeless Marylanders. The state has been charging homeless adults $24 and homeless children $15 for such cards, he said.
"Charging $15 to a homeless child for an ID doesn't make any sense," Hogan said.
The governor was referring to the fees the state charges any person who applies for a state-issued ID that is not a driver's license. Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the administration is planning a waiver for people who can show they're registered at a homeless shelter, which would become their legal address. He said the administration is proposing a reduction to $1 because state law requires some charge.
Other fees Hogan plans to cut include the charges for a broad range of professional licenses, including a $65 reduction for veterinarians. Also receiving cuts will be real estate brokers, home appraisers, pharmacists and asbestos removal contractors.
Hogan plans to eliminate some fees entirely. One is the $725 the Department of Human Resources charges adopted people who want to search records to find their birth parents. Also dumped are fees of up to $700 charged by the State Highway Administration for outdoor advertising permits. Businesses with underground storage tanks will see the $100 to $300 fees they pay for permit applications and retesting go away.
Seniors who own boats could benefit from the governor's proposal to eliminate the $10-$12 launching fee in state parks for those who hold a Golden Age Pass.
Earlier this year, Hogan announced a sweeping reduction in the tolls paid at facilities operated by the Maryland Transportation Authority, including the Bay Bridge and Baltimore's harbor crossings. One of the changes Hogan announced at that time was the elimination of a $1.50-a-month fee for an E-ZPass account.
Hogan cited that cut Tuesday though it took place in July, and he included the estimated $5.9 million in savings in his estimate of $10.2 million in annual savings from fee cuts — accounting for more than half of the total.
Tuesday's announcement gave the Republican governor an opportunity to prosecute his continuing campaign against former Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.
He used O'Malley's 2006 criticism of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to take a swipe at what Hogan suggested was O'Malley's reliance on fees. "A fee is a tax and if it comes out of my pocket, it's a tax," Hogan said.
State Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, said Hogan's announcement showed "how bitter he still is about Martin O'Malley."
"The campaign is over and it's time to start governing and laying out where we're going to go," Madaleno said. He said the governor's moves were actually a repudiation of Ehrlich's administration — in which Hogan served — that stressed charging those who benefit from government services rather that spreading the costs among all taxpayers.
Madaleno said most of the fee cuts are going to Hogan's core constituency groups.
"This is a payoff for his business backers disguised as relief for the average person," Madaleno said. Cuts such as the one for homeless ID cards are "designed to distract voters from a giveaway to his corporate backers," the senator said.
However, executive director Bill McCarthy of Catholic Charities in Maryland welcomed the change.
"While $24 may not seem like much money to most of us, for people living in poverty that can be the difference between being able to buy groceries for the week or not, or being able to afford public transportation to work," McCarthy said. "What many people may not fully appreciate is the difficulty in obtaining services, finding work, or getting other necessities of life without a state-issued identification card. "
Mike O'Halloran, Maryland state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said Hogan's cuts to professional licensing fees represented "good news for small business."
"Now [business owners] can take that money and hopefully hire some more people," he said. "It's a step in the right direction."
Warren Deschenaux, the General Assembly's chief budget analyst, said the rollbacks are probably ones the state can afford.
"It's a tiny piece of the overall revenue structure," he said.
Deschenaux noted that the agency with the largest share of revenue rollbacks is the Department of Transportation. He said agencies tend to increase fees when other revenues are scarce — as they were at the Transportation Department before O'Malley pushed through the state's first gas tax increase in two decades in 2013.
Now that the Transportation Department has ample revenue, Deschenaux said, "arguably they can afford to look at these things."
Here are some of the state fees Gov. Larry Hogan plans to cut or eliminate:
•Eliminate $725 fee for adoptees to search records to find birth parents
•Cut from $14 to $10 vehicle emissions testing fee for motorists who use self-service kiosks
•Cut by 10 percent licensing fees for motor vehicle dealers, wreckers and driving instructors
•Cut by 30 percentlicensing fee for veterinarians
•Eliminate for senior citizens the $10-$12 boat launching fee in state parks
•Cut by $10, to $40, Motor Vehicle Administration fee for corrections to a title.
•For homeless people, cut to $1 the fee for state-issued identification cards, now $24 for adults and $15 for children.