Heady, perhaps, from the sudden talk that he could challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 primaries, Gov. Larry Hogan used his turn on PBS’ NewsHour this week to promise that he would be proposing a “major tax cut” in his State of the State speech. He didn’t, and good for him. He offered up some familiar ideas for targeted tax relief — some possibly good (tax credits for parental leave, support for the state’s Opportunity Zones, help for those paying off student loans) some perhaps not (additional breaks for favored retirees) — amounting to a total of a little more than $100 million a year. Given the economic uncertainty that has prompted Comptroller Peter Franchot to warn that “winter is coming,” plus the need to plan ahead for the increased education funding recommended by the Kirwan Commission, now was not the time to propose major, across-the-board tax decreases.
But there were other areas that demand bolder ambitions than what Governor Hogan proposed today. Here are three areas where Governor Hogan should have gone further.
Governor Hogan touted Maryland’s status as a “national and international leader in combating greenhouse gas emissions,” but he stopped short of endorsing (or even mentioning) the Clean Energy and Jobs Act that would commit the state to increasing the amount of electricity it generates from clean, renewable sources. It would double our renewable energy goal to 50 percent by 2030 and commit the state to developing a plan to reach 100 percent renewable energy. Acting now would help position Maryland as a regional leader in the green economy; waiting will allow those jobs to go to other states.
Governor Hogan made note of the fact that the state funding formulas for education spending call for a reduction of $11 million in the amount Baltimore City should receive next year but that his budget holds it and other jurisdictions harmless for declining enrollment. That’s good. During his first term, Mr. Hogan had to be prodded into doing that, so we appreciate that he now did so of his own accord. But any discussion of education in the General Assembly this year that does not so much as mention (much less advance) the objectives of the Kirwan Commission is simply bizarre. The commission, which includes a variety of stakeholders, including the governor’s administration, has spent years now determining not just how to update Maryland’s 17-year-old funding formulas but recommending an ambitious overhaul of how and what we teach our children from pre-K through high school. We understand that Mr. Hogan has concerns about how to pay for the Kirwan recommendations, which call for an additional $3.8 billion in annual support, phased in over a decade. But he should at least start engaging in a debate about what we can afford and what should be our top priorities — for example, an expansion of pre-K.
Governor Hogan was right to tout the accomplishments of his administration and the General Assembly last year in reducing premiums on the Affordable Care Act individual health insurance exchange. It really was remarkable, bi-partisan work that helped drive enrollment up here at a time when it was down in most other states. Mr. Hogan also mentioned Maryland’s pioneering agreement with the federal government to constrain the growth in health care spending while improving quality, another major achievement of his first term. But he did not mention the two big pieces of health care legislation the General Assembly will consider this year: the creation of a state-level health insurance mandate and the establishment of a prescription drug price review board. A Maryland insurance mandate would help offset the evisceration of the federal requirement that individuals have health insurance, and the model Maryland advocates are pushing would further expand coverage by allowing people to use any fine they might be assessed as a down payment on purchasing coverage. The more people are insured, the lower the costs for everyone. The prescription drug board, which is getting some bipartisan support, would help prevent major, unjustified cost increases for existing medications and limit the ability of pharmaceutical companies to charge exorbitant prices for new ones.