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5 things to watch in Hogan's State of the State

Gov. Larry Hogan will deliver his first State of the State speech today, an address that often sets a tone for an administration. Here are five things to watch for as the new Republican governor gives his remarks to the Maryland General Assembly at noon. Maryland Public television will live stream the speech. 

1. Will he give any specific policy proposals?

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Hogan won office in November on a broad promise to curb state spending, reduce taxes, and improve the business climate. His message resonated with voters, but lacked specifics on exactly how he planned to accomplish those goals. Hogan's laser-focused campaign addressed very few of the many other issues pending before Maryland.

So far, Hogan's budget proposal has shown he's willing to limit spending on education, state employees, transportation and Medicaid in order to balance the budget. What else is he willing to do? The new governor has hinted he will pursue legislation that expands access to charter schools and addresses the heroin crisis, but he has yet to roll out his agenda for the remaining 2015 General Assembly session. The State of the State speech could be a vehicle to tell voters what else he hopes to accomplish during his first year in office.

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2. Will he propose tax cuts?

In the two weeks since he has been in office, Hogan has tempered the expectation that he planned to immediately seek to repeal some of the 40 tax and fee increases he lambasted during his campaign for governor. While he has said repeatedly since the election that he must get the state's spending under control before he rolls back the state's tax burden, he has promised to offer some form of tax relief this year. The State of the State could be the place to announce it.

Many in Annapolis expect the so-called "rain tax" to be the most likely target, both for its political resonance with Hogan's base and because eliminating it would have no impact on the state's finances. That tax — actually a stormwater remediation fee — is levied by Maryland's 10 largest jurisdictions in order to pay for projects that  prevent pollution running into the Chesapeake Bay. Eliminating the law that requires counties to levy it would abolish a fee but not create a budget hole Hogan must solve. But will he go after another tax?

3. How often does he mention business or the economy?

Hours after Hogan took office last month, road crews began replacing highway signs with Hogan's name and a new slogan: "We're open for business."  Hogan made the same declaration in his inaugural speech, and has consistently emphasized that he was elected to turn Maryland's economy around.

In his address today, Hogan is expected to hammer these themes even more, talking about ways to improve job growth and foster a better business climate.

4. Does the bipartisanship talk continue?

As only the second Republican elected in more than 45 years, Hogan has made a point to promise to work with Maryland's Democratically-controlled legislature. His inauguration speech brimmed with references to cooperation, fairness and the elevation of solutions above partisan politics. And yet, Hogan took several subtle jabs at his predecessors, including promising to make the state one its residents can be proud of again.

Maryland's top Democrats, at first, embraced the message of bipartisanship and spoke warmly about optimism in working with the Hogan administration. The unity began to fray as details of Hogan's spending plan — and cuts to education in particular — began to come to light. To what extent will Hogan continue to sound themes of bipartisanship?

5. How will the Democrats respond?

The early Kumbaya days of the Maryland General Assembly session have begun to give way to Democrats' complaints that Hogan's budget may have gone too far in curbing spending. Democrats picked the new House Majority Leader Anne R. Kaiser to give a rebuttal to Hogan's speech. Kaiser's response, which will be taped in the morning and aired on Maryland Public Television immediately after Hogan's speech, could reveal to what extent Democrats are willing to publicly fight Hogan on his agenda.

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