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Gov. Hogan should do more than play defense against Dems

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan speaks to reporters before his inauguration at the State House in Annapolis. (Pam Wood/Baltimore Sun)

Larry Hogan is an anomaly. A second term Republican governor in a state where Democrats outnumber members of his party two-to-one, he has managed not just to survive in Maryland but to thrive personally in a year when Republicans were trounced in Congress and in state elections. His latest approval numbers stand at 77 percent; he holds a coveted spot in the leadership of the National Governors Association; and prominent Never Trump Republicans see him as presidential material.

So what has he accomplished with all of this goodwill after surging into office on a tide of anti-tax and spend rhetoric four years ago? He lowered tolls. And he has used his veto power to fight Democratic overreach in the state legislature, even if he has ultimately been overridden. Following eight years of over 40 tax and fee increases under Gov. Martin O’Malley, the reprieve from new taxes under his watch is welcome.

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While he can only do so much with a legislature overwhelmingly stacked against him, he can and should play more than defense against Democrats because most of what he campaigned against still haunts Maryland, from high taxes to chronic overspending that causes legislators to perpetually find new things to tax to plug budget holes and businesses to look elsewhere to relocate or expand.

At the moment, he’s veered away from the challenge. Given the number of times he praised bipartisanship and those who practiced it in his second inaugural address, it seemed like he was running for kindergarten class president on a platform that he listens, he cares, and he respects people who aren’t like him. It was such a hugs and kisses for all speech that if “everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team” from “The LEGO Movie” had been blaring in the background, it would have been totally appropriate.

Unfortunately, Marylanders need someone who will challenge the dominant team, not play along with it if they are to thrive in coming years.

Here’s why: Governor Hogan may say Maryland is “Open for Business,” but why do major corporations like Amazon keep choosing to relocate to Virginia instead of Maryland? Could it be the corporate income tax rate (8.25 percent in Maryland; 6 percent in Virginia) or Marylanders' local piggy back income taxes that make it so much more expensive to live here than surrounding states? And why do so many Marylanders keep leaving the state, including the wealthy in Montgomery County — causing a major tax revenue headache in that jurisdiction and at the state level?

Another problem is that under Governor Hogan’s watch, the state has only become more dependent on the federal government. Most of the time it benefits Maryland, but it became a major liability during the recently ended shutdown. As Comptroller Peter Franchot said recently, “Maryland is joined at the hip with the federal budget, and our economy is very dependent on the federal government. This shutdown, if it continues, is going to have a devastating impact on the Maryland state economy.” Since about half of the state’s federal workers are contractors, many won’t receive back pay nor will the state receive tax revenue on that lost income.

And we haven’t even gotten to chronic overspending unchecked under Governor Hogan. His own budget estimates a $1 billion deficit beginning in 2021 — not counting the recommendation from the Kirwan Commission to boost public school funding by nearly $4 billion on top of record public education spending. And the $2.4 billion Purple Line pushed by Governor Hogan is a fiscal boondoggle mired by $275 million in cost overruns thus far that will likely not decrease congestion and will drain state finances with high maintenance costs for decades to come. With those issues alone state residents should get ready for higher taxes. Adding sports betting and legalizing pot won’t cover those bills.

Marylanders elected him twice — the second time by a double-digit margin — because of his relentless anti-tax message. He has a mandate and should use his position to go back to the people and argue for reforms that will give businesses, not just the federal government, a reason to expand here and all Marylanders an incentive to stay and build their lives in the state. Besides, how will he appeal to Republican voters around the country if his actions make him look like another big spending Democrat? Governor Hogan needs to decide if he wants to be well-liked more than he wants to leave a legacy of growth and prosperity. All of our futures depend on it.

Marta H. Mossburg (mmossburg@mdpolicy.org) is a visiting fellow with the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

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