It’s customary for outgoing Maryland governors to boast about their years in office. So it’s entirely reasonable for Larry Hogan to spend his final weeks in something of a campaign mode, particularly as he considers a run for the White House — much as his predecessor, Martin O’Malley, did as he left the State House.
Yet in a recent keynote address to the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the business group that advocates for the District of Columbia and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, Maryland’s 62nd governor piled it on thicker than the fudge on a Berger cookie. . Not only had he staged an “economic turnaround,” but he did so starting with a state that was “not pulling its weight in the region,” that was widely known as the “California of the East” ( a title not meant as a compliment, he added), and had lost thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of jobs. In other words, my friends, ya had trouble, big, big trouble.
What happened next? Beginning with the sales pitch that he put on road signs (that Maryland was “open for business”), the governor boasted in his Dec. 8 talk at the Washington Hilton that he built up a “pro-business,” “pro-jobs” and “pro-innovation” economy, while transforming state government from deficits to surpluses. Oh, and he rolled back taxes while keeping employers like Marriott International’s headquarters in Montgomery County — though he failed to mention that state and local taxpayer subsidies amounting to about $17,700 per employee kept Marriott around.
Now, we’ve caught the governor gaslighting on taxes when he first ran for office, both overstating about what went up under Governor O’Malley and what would get rolled back as soon as Hogan got to the State House (the reality: other than tolls, not much). But this business about Maryland being an economic desert (with a “rain tax” even) before he was put in charge and now a Shangri-La requires a bit of fact-checking. So here are some of the numbers that conflict with such rosy recollections.
From 2014 to today, Maryland’s unemployment rate has gone from below the national rate to slightly above, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2014, Maryland’s median income of $73,971 was well above the District ($71,648) and Virginia ($64,902), but as of 2019, D.C. had taken the lead by more than $5,000 per household, according to the American Community Survey.
The governor can certainly brag all he wants about his support for Trade Point Atlantic, a transformation of Sparrows Point that was launched in 2014 — ahem, before he took office. But by any reasonable standard, the state was doing pretty well before he became governor, and it’s still just fine in most respects. It’s also still struggling in the same areas, including the persistent pockets of poverty and inequities throughout the state and most notably in Baltimore.
One circumstance the governor should have bragged about more explicitly to the Board of Trade is how he has tilted state spending in their direction. Take the Consolidated Transportation Program, which paid for the Bethesda-to-New Carrollton Purple Line light rail project but not for the planned Woodlawn-to-Johns Hopkins Bayview Red Line. Oh, and that was made possible by one of those tax increases imposed by O’Malley. We could go on about how Baltimore was shortchanged (State Center redevelopment, for example), but you get the picture.
As others have often noted, the presence of the federal government and the various related industries, from lobbying to labs, around the D.C. region always has given the state an edge. Did Hogan make Montgomery and Prince George’s counties significantly less dependent on federal largesse? Probably not. One persistent problem is a lack of risk capital and a workforce “skills gap” that makes it difficult to fill jobs, a shortcoming noted in the Augustine Commission that lawmakers assigned to closely study the state’s business climate — in 2015.
No, the real genius of the outgoing governor is not transforming economies, it’s in spinning the narrative to make himself seem like the rescuing action hero when progress is modest. Don’t take our word for it. Look at how the Wall Street rating firms have judged Maryland’s financial circumstances. AAA bond ratings in 2014 and AAA ratings this year. Maryland has a “broad, diverse and wealthy economy,” observed Fitch Ratings. May it always be so.
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