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In State of the State, Hogan focuses on policy

The Governor's Office

Gov. Larry Hogan’s State of the State address Wednesday marked the halfway point in Hogan’s term.

The 25-minute speech focused heavily on Hogan’s legislative agenda, from expanding charter schools to tax breaks for public safety officials and military veterans. As Hogan named each of his priorities, he took a moment to reflect on what he has already accomplished before outlining what’s still left to do.

For example, he talked about opioid addiction.

“Three years ago, when not many people were paying any attention, we began to shine a spotlight on the rapidly growing heroin and opioid crisis,” he said. He described the task force his administration created to study the issue and look for possible solutions before asking lawmakers to support his effort to toughen criminal penalties for distributing opioids.

He urged lawmakers to expand charter schools and increase funding for a private school tuition scholarship program. Both proposals face tough opposition from the state’s teachers unions and many Democratic legislators.

“We want to focus on the hundreds of thousands of young people in our public schools, not the handful that go to private schools where he wants to focus his attention,” said Sen. Rich Madaleno, a Democrat from Montgomery County.

Hogan highlighted proposals to cap tuition at 14 state universities and colleges and to make student loan interest tax deductible.

He pitched tax breaks for public safety officials and military veterans, as well as for manufacturing companies that open up shop in Baltimore, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland.

“We still have Marylanders who are struggling in parts of our state like Baltimore City, Western Maryland, and the Lower Eastern Shore,” Hogan said, citing higher employment rates in those areas than in the rest of the state.

The manufacturing tax cut failed last year, which Democratic leaders say was because it only applies to new businesses, and existing businesses cried foul.

Hogan also urged legislators to repeal a law requiring the state Department of Transportation to rank transportation projects according to how they meet goals such as improving the environment and economic growth.

“Let’s repeal this misguided, poorly drafted, and fatally flawed Road Kill Bill,” he said.

He says the law “kills” road projects, which wouldn’t rank as high as transit projects in urban areas. But the law actually allows the Department of Transportation to fund lower-ranking projects if it explains the choice in writing.

Senate President Mike Miller, a Democrat, said Hogan knows the law isn’t going anywhere, but included it in the speech for political purposes.

“He doesn't want to repeal it because he wants it to use it two years from now — you know, try to trick the people and fool the people into thinking that it does something that it doesn't do," Miller said.

Much of Hogan’s speech called for bipartisan compromise, such as on paid sick leave and redistricting reform.

“And isn’t it time that we finally pass the Redistricting Reform Act so we can remove the politics and the politicians from drawing their own district lines?” Hogan asked.

That issue has been a non-starter for the Democrat-controlled legislature, whose leaders say they won’t give up their seats in Congress unless Republican-controlled state legislatures elsewhere do the same.

But Miller said there may be a way forward.

“We will pass a bill this year that lumps states together,” he said. “So for example, if we can take Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland together and have it be bipartisan for all four of those states.”

Democrats and Republicans alike praised Hogan for his calls for bipartisanship and said they were ready to work with the governor.

But many Democrats also pointed out what Hogan omitted from the speech.

“The most profound issue of the day is the Trump Administration, the Muslim Ban,” said House Majority Leader Bill Frick. “To not mention it is pretty shocking.”

But House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said Democrats are using potential federal policy changes as scare tactics.

“I think some in the majority party are trying to use the D.C. politics to divide us here in Annapolis,” he said.

Kipke praised Hogan for resisting the urge to bring partisan politics into his speech.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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