Last year, Gov. Larry Hogan used relatively restrained language in announcing his veto of a handful of the General Assembly's bills, but lawmakers overrode him on every one of them anyway. This year, he vetoed a handful of bills again but accompanied them with some fighting words — "sophomoric," "undue and wholly improper" and "legislative 'logrolling,'" for example. On the merits, he has a point on some of the bills, but two of the vetoes this time deserve the same fate as last year's batch.
Probably the most important of them is legislation that accelerates Maryland's move toward renewable energy. Sponsored by Sen. Catherine Pugh of Baltimore and Del. William Frick of Montgomery County, it calls for the state's electric suppliers to get 25 percent of their energy from Tier I renewable sources (including 2.5 percent from solar) by 2020, rather than the 20 percent (including 2 percent from solar) in current law. Mr. Hogan calls the bill a tax because electric bills would likely increase slightly as a result, but that absolutist view is short-sighted.
Mr. Hogan calls the goal of 25 percent by 2020 "laudable," and in fact, his own environment secretary joined in the unanimous vote of the Maryland Climate Change Commission last fall to call for a 40 percent goal by 2030. The question is, how do we get there from here if we are not willing to accept modest increases in short-term costs as we build renewable energy capacity?
Even if you're not moved by the issue on environmental grounds, there's a good economic case to be made for the bill. Maryland is a heavy importer of electricity, and it would benefit from having more locally produced supply and a move diverse mix of energy sources. Natural gas is dominating the market now, but that won't necessarily always be the case, perhaps because of global efforts to fight global warming or some unforeseen interruption in supply. A modest charge now — we're talking somewhere between 77 cents and $3.06 a month for the average electric ratepayer in 2020, with costs decreasing after that — would pay off in the long run in terms of adequacy and stability of electric supply. And as a bonus: The legislation includes mechanisms to help create clean energy jobs locally, particularly for minority- and women-owned firms.
Perhaps the most inexplicable of the vetoes was Mr. Hogan's vituperative rejection of Del. Brooke Lierman's legislation to create an advisory council for the Maryland Transit Administration. The governor appears to be treating this as an encroachment on executive branch authority by a power-hungry Democratic legislature, but in truth, it was born of the failings of the O'Malley-era MTA. It was first introduced last year, before Mr. Hogan angered many by canceling Baltimore's proposed Red Line and undertaking an overhaul of city bus routes, and the final version reflects substantial input by his administration.
Mr. Hogan bizarrely called it an attack on the "One Maryland" principle because its membership is weighted — get this — toward people who live in the counties where the MTA actually operates. (He says 11 of 16 members would be required to live in six counties. Actually, it's 11 of 17 members, not counting the secretary of transportation who serves ex officio, and five counties.) Eight of the members (again, not counting the transportation secretary) would be appointed by the governor. It's not a power grab. Planning and oversight boards like this one are common in transit agencies, and it would help the MTA in its efforts at long-term planning and building support for its priorities. In announcing his effort to revamp Baltimore bus lines, Mr. Hogan called the MTA deeply dysfunctional. He should welcome the help to fix it.
Not all of the vetoes need to be overridden. Mr. Hogan is right to question legislation interfering with the development of student housing near Morgan State University. It was an unwelcome intrusion by the state legislature into a local matter. It's also moot, since the sides in the dispute over the redevelopment of Northwood Plaza have largely settled their differences. A bill by Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore to create an entity to help foster innovation in K-12 education was vetoed not on substantive grounds but because of a technical flaw that can be fixed next year. Legislation forcing the governor to set aside money for the replacement of the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Southern Maryland should also be unnecessary. We appreciate the bridge's vital importance for the region, its dilapidated state, and the concern that Mr. Hogan's unilateral move to reduce tolls puts funding for a replacement at risk. But the governor says he is committed to the project and is moving forward with preliminary steps for replacement. Surely the situation can be resolved through dialogue rather than legislation and vetoes.