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Hogan gets competitive on business competitiveness

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch took umbrage this week when Gov. Larry Hogan told reporters in an impromptu press conference that the legislature's two presiding officers were "parroting" his views on the business climate. Really, they should take it as a compliment; evidently Mr. Hogan believes Messrs. Miller and Busch are blessed with an otherworldly prescience. After all, on the eve of November's election, political prediction guru Nate Silver pegged Mr. Hogan's odds of winning at 6 percent, but as Mr. Hogan evidently sees it, the General Assembly's top two Democrats were certain enough of his victory before he even announced his candidacy that they launched a two-year legislative effort in anticipation of it.

Mr. Hogan flashed a Cheshire Cat grin in the State House's basement press room when he told an assemblage of reporters that the testimony by Messrs. Miller and Busch in favor of their package of business competitiveness bills showed that they are now on board with the message of his State of the State speech, which both panned at the time as a hyper-partisan rehash of campaign rhetoric. "Now both of them are sort of parroting a lot of the things we've been talking about for four years," Mr. Hogan said. "So we're excited about that."

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In case you're confused about what the governor means by "things we've been talking about for years," given that prior to his inauguration on Jan. 21, there was no Hogan administration, he was evidently referring to Change Maryland, the advocacy organization he used as a springboard for his campaign. It's true that Change Maryland was making some noise in Maryland political circles and gathering a following on-line well before Mr. Hogan became a candidate, but it didn't exactly invent the issue of Maryland business competitiveness. That's been around for years, with organizations like the state Chamber of Commerce, Maryland Business for Responsive Government, the Maryland Public Policy Institute and others raising questions about state policies they saw as harmful (or at least not helpful) to the private sector.

Indeed, Mr. Busch announced the creation of a Business Climate Workgroup on Jan. 29, 2013. He and Mr. Miller agreed in the fall of that year to develop a joint legislative agenda around business competitiveness issues. Mr. Hogan declared his candidacy on Jan. 21, 2014. The presiding officers announced the details of their agenda on Jan. 24, 2014. We suppose they could have pulled some all-nighters during those three days to cobble it together after Mr. Hogan's campaign became official, but we doubt it. At the time, the economist Anirban Basu, who later became a top adviser to Mr. Hogan, called the legislators' efforts "a shockingly good start." David Brinkley, then a state senator and now Mr. Hogan's budget secretary, observed that "the leadership in the legislature is trying to set the stage for the next governor, whoever he or she might be, that this is something that needs to be addressed."

Really, though, who is following whom on this issue isn't nearly so important as the fact that, at least up until yesterday , it was being addressed in a non-partisan way. The Miller-Busch agenda led to the creation of a commission headed by former Lockheed-Martin CEO Norman R. Augustine that last month issued a set of 32 recommendations for improving the state's business climate. Members of the Hogan administration and Democratic lawmakers joined together for the announcement, and both the presiding officers and members of the administration testified this week in favor of a package of five bills stemming from the commission's work.

The risk of politicizing the effort is not that those five bills will die. That seems unlikely. It's a question of how the stage is set for the next, and likely much more controversial, phase of the commission's work: a set of recommendations on state spending an taxation. Governor Hogan was right recently to point out that an effort to improve the state's business climate must consider those issues, but the chances that he and the Democratic-majority General Assembly will come to a consensus on them are much greater if the issue is viewed as one they share rather than portrayed as one the governor owns. It's tough to get bi-partisanship when you're practicing one-upmanship.

Or, to parrot Ronald Reagan, "There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit."

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