Governor Larry Hogan holds a press conference to announce how the legislature session is going and whether he is planning to sign or veto a series of bills sent up by the Maryland General Assembly . (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)
Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday he will let a series of bills he dislikes become law without his signature, avoiding a showdown with the General Assembly over vetoes.
"Now that the so-called drama is over with, the legislature should now be able to focus on some important business for the remainder of the session," Hogan said at a State House news conference.
Among the bills that will become law are a package that will send hundreds of millions of dollars to Baltimore to expedite demolition of vacant housing, redevelop blighted neighborhoods and pay for park renovations and after-school programs. Hogan also declined to block a measure that strengthens ties between the University of Maryland, College Park and University of Maryland, Baltimore.
In the session's final days, he asked lawmakers to pass income tax cuts approved by the state Senate, saying they have his "full support." He also urged legislators to take an "up-or-down" vote on redistricting reform, a proposal to change the way legislative districts are drawn that has not received a committee vote.
"There can be no possible excuse for keeping this bill hidden in a drawer," Hogan said. Democratic leaders have said they're holding out for national a solution to the problem of gerrymandering.
In side-stepping confrontation, Hogan let bills become law that he supports in concept but opposes because they mandate spending. In addition to the bills to help Baltimore and create the university partnership, he agreed to pay for construction of a hospital in Prince George's County — a top priority of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and the county government.
The governor said the spending requirements were unnecessary because his "administration was already 100-percent committed to" those projects.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Hogan's actions validated legislative leaders' strategy of getting bills to the governor's desk early enough that they would have had time to override potential vetoes before the session ends Monday night.
"The fact that he knew that the General Assembly worked hard to pass that legislation and had the votes to override his vetoes played a role in the decision process," said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.
Hogan struck a generally conciliatory tone Tuesday that contrasted sharply with a joke he made earlier in the session about lawmakers treating their work like "spring break." He thanked Miller and Busch for their cooperation and praised lawmakers for finishing work on the state budget with two weeks to spare in the annual 90-day legislative session.
"It sends a strong message to Marylanders that we can work together and we can get things done," Hogan said.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Hogan — popular in recent polling despite being a Republican in a state where there are twice as many Democrats — made an astute decision.
"He's certainly recognized that at any time there can be a veto override, and I think he is more interested in governance," Kromer said. "For a governor with his type of approval rating, it really shows a sense of pragmatism."
Other bills that Hogan said he considered "not worth signing or vetoing" included one that will strip the governor's authority to appoint members of Baltimore's liquor board and another that will require public notice before certain spending cuts.
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the city Senate delegation, said she was "excited" that the governor did not veto bills that will send additional state aid to Baltimore.
"It's important to Baltimore City to be able to bring that much additional money home to the city to encourage growth and development," said Pugh, who is running for mayor. She was also pleased the liquor board bill will become law. The Senate last month refused to confirm three Hogan appointees that community members said were too business-friendly.
"The more we take responsibility for things locally, the better off our city is going to be," she said.
Republican legislative leaders supported Hogan's decision to avoid a series of confrontations during the session's final days.
House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, of Anne Arundel County, said the governor was smart to sidestep "political traps" Democrats set for him by passing spending mandates. By allowing the bills to become law without his signature, Kipke said, Hogan prevents Democrats from grabbing headlines by making a big show of overriding vetoes.
"Many of the bills that have been passed this session are there for political reasons, and the governor has wisely decided not to engage in shallow political battles," Kipke said.
Hogan did not back down entirely. He announced he would veto a local bill that would change the composition of the Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Commission, which suggests whom the governor should appoint to the local school board. Hogan said the bill violates Maryland's Constitution by removing commission members before their terms expire.
Busch said he expects to attempt to override that veto.
"The attorney general says the legislation is constitutional, and that's the official word for the state," he said.
The other bill that is expected to become the subject of an override vote would create a scoring system for proposed transportation projects in Maryland.