Maryland Gov. Wes Moore began his first full day in office Thursday by releasing funds approved by the General Assembly but withheld under the administration of former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, including millions of dollars to offer training for abortion providers.
“We view the General Assembly as partners — not adversaries — in our collective work and our collective effort to produce a budget that thoughtfully uses data to invest taxpayer dollars in programs, services and initiatives that will address the most pressing concerns of communities all over the state,” Moore said at his first news conference with reporters at the State House in Annapolis.
“Today’s actions also — it’s important to note — shift a fundamental shift on how the governor’s office is going to approach the budget and the office’s relationship with the General Assembly,” he said.
Moore is required to submit the first budget of his four-year term Friday to the General Assembly, which has new authority under the state’s constitution to reallocate funds to its priorities.
Moore’s spending announcement included $9 million for environmental protections, $10 million for the Department of Labor to start a paid family and medical leave program, and $46.5 million toward a new recreational cannabis legalization process.
Voters last year approved the use of recreational cannabis by people 21 and older starting July 1. The $46.5 million includes $5 million to make it easier for people to expunge criminal records related to the drug.
The General Assembly plans to work this session to establish taxation and regulatory measures for the industry.
Moore also released $3.5 million to train additional clinicians to perform abortions, which the former Republican governor withheld. State Democrats had pleaded with Hogan to release the funding last summer following the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, but he declined.
“Maryland has some of the strongest laws in the nation to protect and preserve women’s reproductive rights,” Moore said. “Our values as a state and as a people require us to do more, especially for women and families in states where safe access to reproductive care has been denied.”
Democratic House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones has said she plans to reintroduce a bill this legislation session to allow Maryland voters to determine whether they want access to abortion, birth control and prenatal care to be enshrined as rights in the state constitution.
Moore also signed an executive order Thursday to create a state agency called the Department of Service and Civic Innovation. That agency will oversee Moore’s plan to allow high school graduates to be paid to learn trade skills. Moore needs to work with the legislature to create the program.
Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have embraced Moore’s proposal for a service year program, which was one of his campaign promises.
Another executive order Moore signed Thursday will implement ethics standards for all employees in his administration — including the governor and lieutenant governor. The language is nearly identical to an order signed by previous governors, including Hogan eight years ago. It prohibits state employees from soliciting or accepting gifts from people or entities that do business, or are seeking to do business with, the state worker’s agency. It also bars employees from engaging in financial transactions using internal government information, among many other provisions.
Maryland Policy & Politics
As a candidate, Moore vowed to be accountable and transparent about his personal financial interests, including the use of a blind trust to hold his assets. The Democrat had interests or direct roles in several companies when he ran for governor, including serving as director on the board of Under Armour, the Baltimore-based athletic apparel company that has benefited from state grants and tax credits. He said after Election Day he had resigned from all his positions on boards of directors.
Moore said Thursday he was “finalizing” the blind trust arrangement. He did not provide further details but instead reiterated his promise for “the highest measure of transparency.”
Beyond his funding announcements, Moore had a busy first day of governing, beginning with breakfast with Miller, Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, also a Democrat. He also met with Democratic Attorney General Anthony Brown and Erek L. Barron, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, to discuss public safety.
In the afternoon, Moore’s string of meetings included the administration’s first cabinet meeting. His cabinet nominees and other top advisers, totaling 35 people, heard Moore’s motivational speech about their service to the state. He said the faces in the room represented his commitment to building a diverse administration.
”The state of Maryland is represented inside this room,” Moore said.
He said the group includes Democrats, Republicans, military veterans, members of the LGBTQIA community and people from geographically diverse backgrounds. While a few of the 20 cabinet-level appointees named so far are holdovers from the Hogan administration, it wasn’t immediately clear how many members are not registered Democrats.
Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Janesch contributed to this article.