Gov. Larry Hogan used his first State of the State address since being re-elected to push for targeted tax credits for retirees, longer sentences for gun offenders and more oversight of local school systems.
As “Never Trump” Republicans encourage him to run for president in 2020, Hogan emphasized bipartisan governing — and received a mix of applause and criticism from Democrats in response.
“We have shown the rest of America that a divided government does not have to be a divisive government,” Hogan said.
The governor on Monday had teased there would be a “major tax cut” in the annual speech, but didn’t push Wednesday for across-the-board cuts to income, sales or property taxes. Republicans in the House of Delegates are seeking a cut to the state’s income tax.
Hogan instead emphasized proposals for more than $500 million in targeted tax reductions over five years — including expanding credits for manufacturers and law enforcement officers’ retirement benefits, as well as increasing a tax deduction on student loan interest.
Hogan’s biggest tax cut proposals — more than $280 million — are aimed at retirees’ income, including a $91 million reduction in taxes for veterans. Hogan also is pushing for the state to collect about $150 million less in taxes from student debt and $25 million less from small businesses.
“These hard-pressed Marylanders deserve a break for a change,” Hogan told a joint session of the General Assembly. Some Democrats pushed back against the tax cuts.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, released a statement calling Hogan’s proposed tax cuts “irresponsible.” Rockeymoore Cummings argued the state cannot forgo revenue when billions more are needed to pay for the recommendations of the so-called Kirwan commission to improve public schools.
“Today, Governor Hogan showed that he is an old-fashioned Republican, unwilling to learn from the failed, trickle-down economic policies of yesterday, while thumbing his nose at education reform and other critical state priorities,” she said.
Del. Anne Kaiser, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, objected on Twitter to the proposed cuts.
“Tax cuts are always popular, but Hogan's tax cut pandering of $500M is pure fantasy,” Kaiser tweeted.
And some of Maryland’s Democratic county executives expressed concern that Hogan is promoting tax relief at a time when they believe more money is needed for public schools, and with a potential recession looming.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said any tax relief has to be “smart and strategic.”
“I have seen places where tax credits and tax incentives have worked out,” he said. “But we have to make sure they are having the intended effect and they are growing the economy and not benefiting a select few at the expense of the many.”
But Anne Arundel Republican Del. Nic Kipke, the House minority leader, praised Hogan’s speech, although he said he wished the governor had gone further.
“The members of our caucus would like to see bigger tax relief for Marylanders than even what Governor Hogan has proposed, but certainly there should be a bipartisan agreement around his proposals,” Kipke said.
The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small businesses, called Hogan’s proposals “refreshing” for the state.
Hogan is just the second Republican governor to be re-elected in Maryland history — an accomplishment in a blue state that is drawing national attention. The president of a Washington think tank has been pushing Hogan for weeks to explore a Republican Party primary challenge to President Donald Trump. Hogan has said he plans to finish his second, four-year term, but has left the door open to running.
“Who knows what’s going to happen two years from now?” Hogan told a sold-out crowd Monday during an event at Baltimore’s Parkway Theatre.
On Wednesday, he didn't indicate any intentions to seek higher office and delivered a 28-minute speech mainly centered on Maryland issues.
Hogan has proposed a package of bills he wants the General Assembly to pass, including a plan to use money from the state’s so-called education “lockbox” for a $1.9 billion increase in school construction projects and increasing support for public charter schools in Maryland.
The governor opened his fifth State of the State speech with a message of support for Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who recently announced he has prostate cancer.
“I want you to know that we are all praying that you come out of this stronger than ever,” said Hogan, who waged his own fight against cancer.
Citing Baltimore’s high crime rate — including four years of more than 300 homicides annually — Hogan asked lawmakers for tougher sentences against repeat gun offenders. Hogan, who has repeatedly sparred with Baltimore’s judges, also asked legislators to pass a bill that would require tracking to show which judges are handing down lenient sentences.
“People who live in Baltimore don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods, and citizens all across the state are outraged by the daily reports of this rampant gang violence,” Hogan said.
The governor also emphasized his push for an independent Education Inspector General to probe claims of mismanagement or wasteful spending in local school systems. And he pushed again for a nonpartisan redistricting commission to draw Maryland’s congressional and legislative maps.
“Please do not hide this legislation in a drawer again this year," Hogan told lawmakers.
Del. Kathleen Dumais of Montgomery County, the majority leader in the House of Delegates, delivered the Democrats’ response and thanked Hogan “for submitting a budget proposal that funds so many of our collective priorities.”
But she said she wanted the governor to once again work with the assembly’s Democratic leaders to lower the cost of health care for Marylanders.
“The toughest decisions on healthcare are in front of us — not behind us,” Dumais said. “We challenge the governor to come to the table and work with us to find a permanent solution for those families for whom healthcare is quickly becoming unaffordable.”
Del. Eric Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, called the speech “boilerplate Hogan.”
“It was either stuff he’s already talked about before, or him running from the back of the bus to the front of the bus on Democratic initiatives,” he said.
Former Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat who led Maryland from 1995 until 2003, was the only former governor in attendance.
Glendening said he was disappointed that Hogan continues to focus on expanding roads, contributing to automotive air pollution and polluted stormwater runoff. He suggested that such proposals are counter to the governor’s other efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and address climate change.
“I appreciate the fact he is standing up on climate change, that he is standing up nationally,” Glendening said. “He is not going to succeed, though, if we continue to build more and more roads and add more emissions to the system,” Glendening said.
Glendening said he also would have liked for the governor to support an effort to increase the minimum wage in Maryland to $15 per hour — one of Maryland Democrats’ top priorities this General Assembly session.