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At MACo, Hogan promises road funding and 'sympathetic ear'

CAMBRIDGE — Gov. Larry Hogan promised a gathering of county officials Thursday that he would champion their concerns in Annapolis and reminded them he already had paid for the top road projects in each of their jurisdictions.

"You have my commitment that with our administration, you will have a friend in the governor's office," Hogan told the local officials from across the state who gathered in Cambridge for the winter conference of the Maryland Association of Counties.

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"You'll find a sympathetic ear, a seat at a table, and a governor who will be fighting on your behalf."

The Republican governor promised to continue sending money for road projects and highlighted his efforts to reduce deaths from heroin overdoses.

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Both were campaign promises for Hogan, who took office in January. And both are more pronounced priorities in the rural areas of the state that backed Hogan by wide margins.

"We're working hard to meet your needs," Hogan said.

Heroin deaths in the state have nearly doubled over the past five years, and the pace has accelerated this year.

A panel convened by Hogan proposed 33 recommendations last week that included tougher punishment for drug dealers and better treatment for addicts — proposals likely to be the subject of heated debate when the General Assembly convenes in January.

"As you all know, this is an issue that's destroying families and communities in our state," Hogan said.

Hogan has announced $1.35 billion in new spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure, shuffling money that had once been planned for the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

In June, Hogan canceled the Red Line, calling it a "wasteful boondoggle," and drastically scaled back the state's contribution to the Purple Line. The moves gave the state road system 57 percent of the transportation dollars spent in Maryland, up from the 45 percent share it received under Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Hogan also promised to put more money into the state's transportation trust fund, part of which was used during the O'Malley administration to shore up budget holes caused by the recession.

In a line that drew rousing applause, the governor said he would further increase contributions to "highway user revenues," a term for the money the state government sends to local jurisdictions to support road projects.

"Our goal is to get them back to their original high point," Hogan said. "Does that sound good?"

The evening session at the conference opened with a prayer by Cecil County Executive Tari Moore, who asked for a special thank-you for Hogan's health.

The governor's voice broke as he thanked people for the prayers and well-wishes after his cancer diagnosis, which kept him away from the organization's summer conference in August.

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Doctors said last month that Hogan's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was in remission.

"My energy level is increasing, I'm feeling renewed," Hogan said. "I'm reinvigorated and ready to get back on the road and spend as much time as possible in every county in the state."

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