Governor-elect Larry Hogan can't let the euphoria of his upset win last too long because he has precious little time before he takes the reins of state government. He will be sworn in on Jan. 21. His first budget is due two days later, and so are any bills he wants to introduce without having them sent to the potential purgatory of the Senate Rules Committee. In reality — given the time needed to print budget books — he needs to have his spending plan finished between Christmas and New Year's, and if he wants to present legislation that won't get chewed up by the Democratic legislature, he needs to make sure the i's are dotted and the t's crossed on his agenda and a bevy of co-sponsors (preferably bi-partisan ones) as soon as possible. Meanwhile, he needs to make the rounds of key constituencies in the state, many of whom, quite frankly, may have been expecting a call from Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown instead.
If he intends to truly put his stamp on his first state budget — and given the attention he paid to state spending and taxes during the campaign, surely he does — that has to be his first order of business. The Department of Budget and Management starts working with state agencies in the summer to prepare requests for the next fiscal year, and it has already started serious work on compiling them into a proposal by September. By all accounts, DBM was professional and cooperative in working with the incoming administration of the state's last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and as fate would have it, the head of the agency then, T. Eloise Foster, is in charge of it again today.
Mr. Hogan isn't walking into the kind of fiscal calamity that the Ehrlich administration faced in 2002-2003, but he does face some worrisome signs. In September, the Board of Revenue Estimates decreased its projections for tax collections during this fiscal year and the next by $405 million. Anticipating soft revenues, Gov. Martin O'Malley made some cuts at the Board of Public Works during the summer, but he said he did not anticipate the need for more after the September write-down. Mr. Hogan would be wise to prevail upon Mr. O'Malley to reconsider. The sooner Mr. Hogan can make spending the reductions, the less severe they will need to be. If he can achieve another two or three months of savings by identifying cuts and asking Mr. O'Malley to bring them before the board, rather than waiting until after the inauguration, so much the better. It would be good for the state's finances and for the cause of bi-partisan cooperation.
As for his non-fiscal agenda, Mr. Hogan has the opportunity to forge a coalition between Republicans and some of the most progressive elements of the General Assembly around good government legislation. He could take up further campaign finance reform, and in particular an expansion of the public financing system that he used so effectively in the primary and general elections. Mr. Hogan said during the campaign that he would support reforms to the way Maryland draws congressional and legislative district lines. Now would be a good time to take that up before either party knows for sure who will be in charge of the process after the 2020 census. He would also do well to look at Maryland's open records laws, which have frequently been abused to deny public access to information about government.
When Mr. Hogan makes the post-election rounds of key stakeholders, there are two to which we hope he will give extra consideration. First, the environmentalists. Mr. Hogan made clear during the campaign that he is committed to the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay, but he has also promised a repeal of the so-called "rain tax" to fund stormwater mitigation programs. We hope he will hear out those who pushed for the fee in the first place to understand its purpose and how it fits in the framework of the Environmental Protection Agency-mandated bay cleanup. Second, the business community. Mr. Hogan has criticized the recent gas tax increase and the state's plans to fund the Red and Purple mass transit lines in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs. But a candidate who promised to improve the state's economic climate needs to hear why business groups lobbied so hard for that tax and those projects.
If we could offer one final piece of advice to Mr. Hogan, it would be this: Make Mike Busch your new best friend. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is a deal maker by nature and can more or less single-handedly make things happen in his chamber. The House of Delegates is different by nature of its culture, rules and size, and as became evident to Mr. Ehrlich (and even Mr. O'Malley at times), it can stymie a governor's agenda. The House speaker can be a powerful ally or a potent enemy. Better for Mr. Hogan to find ways to make him the former.