State of the State: 2020 looks a lot like 2019 in Maryland | COMMENTARY

From left, Maryland Reps. Mark Fisher, Gerald Clark, Matt Morgan and Maryland Sen. Michael Hough, all Republicans, applaud as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, not pictured, delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.

The most remarkable thing about Gov. Larry Hogan’s State of the State address Wednesday wasn’t the content. The speech itself largely mirrored the speech he gave last year — right down to the topic shifts and phrasing — when he was said to be mulling a challenge to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination (spoiler: He didn’t do it).

Governor Hogan again opened with a nod to the legislature’s leadership and praise for Maryland’s bipartisan efforts to find “common sense solutions,” while “Washington seems to be more bitterly divided than ever.” And he again quoted from his first Inaugural Address (twice this year) and boasted about an economic turnaround and the unprecedented strength of the state, before pivoting to his tax break proposals, achievements and legislative priorities — including a few repeats — before ending on the same note of hope.


“Let us continue to deliver real results for the people who put their trust in us,” he said Wednesday.

“Let’s continue to deliver real results for the people who sent us here,” he said in 2019.


There were multiple examples of like language throughout the speech, which gave it a kind of cut-and-paste quality. But if something works, we suppose you stick with it if you’re a politician.

In fact, how well things seem to be working was the standout component to the address, particularly when you contrast Governor Hogan’s speech — and its reception by lawmakers — with the State of the Union address delivered less than 24 hours earlier in Washington, D.C., by President Donald Trump.

Unlike the State of the Union, there was also actual handshaking between the executive and lawmakers (a lot of it). No one tore up anyone else’s speech, and no one stormed out in a huff. In fact, there was a lot of applause on the floor and several standing ovations. Not bad for a Republican governor appearing before a legislature that’s overwhelmingly made up of Democrats.

Both sides deserve a clap on the back for the efforts they’ve made to work together over the past five years and for the signals they’re sending that this year will be no different. Of course, they haven’t yet gotten into the nitty gritty of funding sources for the roughly $4 billion that eventually will be required annually to fully implement Kirwan education reforms a decade from now, which will be the real test of the relationship.

Governor Hogan has previously branded the Kirwan plan a “half-baked” “tax-hike commission,” but he was surprisingly low-key on the issue Wednesday. He said he stands ready and willing to work with legislators regarding education, while urging “productive discussions” about how to hold school systems accountable, rather than just debating “how much more we should spend.” Hear, hear!

Then again, the governor may not have wanted to get too far into the weeds of Kirwan’s cost given that a key legislative proposal of his this year is to cut $1 billion in tax revenue from retirees over the next five years. That would be, as he noted, “the largest tax reduction in Maryland in more than two decades.” It would also be irresponsible given the cost of education reform and the overwhelming support for it in Maryland, and the structural deficit we face in the coming years — projected to be $701 million by fiscal year 2022 and $1.1 billion by fiscal year 2025.

Among the governor’s other legislative initiatives is a school construction investment act, first introduced last year, that would address the need for upgrades and repairs at schools throughout the state, nowhere more evident than in Baltimore, where an aging school system infrastructure led students to miss 1.5 million hours of class time over the past five years because of heating, cooling and other maintenance issues.

Crime also was a big focus of the governor’s legislative agenda. He reintroduced a judicial transparency proposal meant to hold judges accountable for their sentencing practices and is seeking increased penalties for gun crimes and for intimidating witnesses.


“People are being shot every single day in Baltimore City. This is an urgent crisis, and we have an obligation to do something about it right now,” he said.

While we agree on the scope of the problem, we’re not as convinced that the legislature can solve it with a few pieces of legislation. Still, it’s good to see the governor engaging on this issue — which has worsened in Baltimore in particular, during his time in office — and searching for solutions. That’s another difference we appreciate between him and the Republican in the White House.