Much has changed since Gov. Larry Hogan took over for former Gov. Martin O'Malley, but not everything. The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation took a page out of the O'Malley administration playbook last week when it announced a disappointing month on the jobs front in the sunniest possible way. Amid a cascade of positive statistics — 28,700 more jobs since January, 44,700 since this time last year and 22,000 private sector jobs gained — the casual reader might be excused for missing the actual news, which is that Maryland lost 4,000 jobs last month.
The governor and members of his administration are keen to advance the narrative that Mr. Hogan's mere presence in Annapolis parted the clouds of business unfriendliness and allowed the sunshine of job creation to beam down upon Maryland. They point to the massive swing in polling of whether Marylanders believe the state is on the right track and some better-than-expected tax collections as proof that Mr. Hogan's declaration that "Maryland is open for business" has improved confidence and turned the state's economy around. A single month of job losses doesn't contradict that, by any means, but the data don't really prove it either.
Maryland has had a good year on the job creation front, no doubt. If present trends hold, the state will gain about 39,000 jobs this year — an impressive total. But it's still about 1,000 fewer jobs than the state added in the last full year of the O'Malley administration, a time when Mr. Hogan was having much political success going around the state and talking about how awful the economy was.
This is not to say that Mr. Hogan can't or won't do anything to improve the state's economic climate, merely that it is going to take time to tell how successful his administrative and policy initiatives will be. His aides point to efforts to roll back tolls and fees — many related to professional licensure — and to review the state's regulations as some initial contributions to improving the business climate. Those efforts have potential, but it will take years to gauge their effects. Moreover, the most substantial changes he may seek to pursue, such as a revamping of the state's tax code, will require the cooperation of the Democrat-controlled legislature, which has been pursuing its own ideas on the topic.
The governor is right to see opportunities for growth in the state's manufacturing and shipping sectors through the redevelopment of Sparrows Point and Port Covington, but we hope he will also recognize the state's top-notch educational system as a significant economic driver. The University System of Maryland has been focused in recent years on translating scientific and technological discoveries into commercial ventures, and the number of start-ups coming from its campuses has increased rapidly. The system's new chancellor, Robert Caret, just completed a state-wide listening tour with civic and business leaders focused in part on how Maryland's public universities can contribute to its economic development.
But the story of education and business is even more fundamental than that. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman visited The Sun's editorial board last week, and the Republican pointed proudly to his success in securing the county's teachers with their first real raise in years. Part of the reason he made that a high priority, he said, was that when he talked to business executives about relocating or expanding there, the issue kept coming up.
The biggest determinant of Mr. Hogan's success in bringing jobs to Maryland may well have nothing to do with his policies or his pro-business attitude, though. Consider this: In 2012, Maryland added 30,700 jobs. In 2013, a mere 15,000. Then in 2014, 39,800. Did Mr. O'Malley's business friendliness take a sudden nose dive in 2013 and recover last year? We think not. The more likely explanation would be that Maryland was whacked that year by the effects of sequestration and the October government shutdown. An even worse version of the same phenomenon happened in Virginia, which posted job gains of 45,800 in 2012, a loss of 400 in 2013, and a gain of 38,200 in 2014.
Congress is again faced with the question of whether to raise the nation's debt limit, and the threat of a government shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood (or whatever the tea party latches onto next) still looms. This suggests that Mr. Hogan's best investment of his time, so far as safeguarding Marylanders' livelihood goes, might be in calling Rep. Andy Harris every day and begging him to talk his Freedom Caucus colleagues into keeping the lights on. President Barack Obama recently said his top priority for the remainder of his term had to be preventing Congress from wrecking the nation's economy. For Mr. Hogan, governor of one of the states with the most to lose from a shutdown, that goes double.