Gov.-elect Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake dined at Johnny's in Roland Park on Monday evening — the latest of the Republican's efforts to reach across the aisle to the state's leading Democrats.
It was the first time the incoming Republican governor and the Democratic mayor of Maryland's largest city have met in person. During the meeting, Rawlings-Blake said, she discussed the importance of the Red Line light rail and State Center projects to Baltimore — both of which could be on the chopping block as Hogan looks to cut the state budget, which is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall.
"Every jurisdiction is trying not to be the loser," Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday. "Everybody has some anxiety."
Over the next 18 months, state revenue is expected to fall nearly $1.2 billion short of Maryland's expenses. The latest numbers suggest that the state must trim more than $420 million before the fiscal year ends in June and an additional nearly $750 million from projected spending for next year.
"He is coming into a situation not too different from when I became mayor and had a historic budget deficit," Rawlings-Blake said, referring to a $120 million shortfall she faced in 2010. She noted only 19 percent of the state's budget is considered discretionary spending. "He's got a lot of challenges to be able to make the cuts under those constraints," she said.
In recent weeks, Hogan has met with top Democrats around the state, including Attorney General-elect Brian E. Frosh, Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett, and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, whom Hogan defeated in the November election.
The Hogan campaign posted photos of the dinner with Rawlings-Blake on Facebook. Hannah Marr, a spokeswoman for Hogan, called the meeting "very productive."
"Baltimore is an important part of the state," Marr said. "It's an economic engine for the state, and we have to make sure it's living up to its potential."
She said Hogan did not make a commitment about funding either the Red Line or State Center project.
The Red Line is a nearly $3 billion light rail project to connect Woodlawn in Baltimore County to East Baltimore. The proposal relies on a combination of federal, state and local funding. State Center is a proposed $1.5 billion development on the site of the state office complex on Preston Street.
"Larry Hogan, from my interaction with him, does not seem to be a rabidly partisan person," Rawlings-Blake said. "He seems to want to deal with the issues and look for solutions. My hope is the legislature conducts themselves in the same way, wanting to look for solutions and being willing to work across party lines."
Rawlings-Blake has won praise from some conservative groups for her fiscal policies, which have included privatizing some government functions, cutting long-term budget gaps and overhauling pension plans. Baltimore receives more than $1 billion in state aid each year, most of which goes to the city's schools.
"I have a lot of Republican support," Rawlings-Blake said jokingly. "I just need to figure out how they can vote in the primary."
She said Hogan wants to "bring job growth back to Maryland," and she encouraged him to support public transportation.
"The growth that is happening around the world is in vibrant cities," the mayor said. "People are choosing with their feet. A lot of people don't want to be chained down to that commute. The challenge for him is to have that eye for the future."