ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, devoted most of his third State of the State speech to calls for bipartisan efforts to advance key parts of his policy agenda, but strongly criticized several legislative efforts by state Democrats, including a controversial transportation bill.
The governor described the past two years as a success story made possible by compromise and sought to emphasize that the government under his leadership had “chosen action over apathy.”
He characterized Maryland as a state in deep economic trouble when he took office that has since dramatically righted itself, saying that Maryland is “stronger today than it was a year ago.”
Hogan generally struck a conciliatory tone and offered praise to his Democratic opposition in the legislature on several points.
However, he did offer a stern criticism of the so-called “road-kill bill.” The law assigns a score to all transportation projects and requires the governor to provide a written explanation to the legislature if he decides to fund a project with a lower score over a higher one.
In his speech Wednesday in the State House, Hogan called the bill “poorly drafted” and “misguided.” His call for its immediate repeal was met with raucous, standing applause from his cabinet and Republicans while most Democrats, who make up about two-thirds of the legislature, sat in stony silence.
Reducing taxes and spending have been central goals of Hogan’s administration.
Since he entered office, he has regularly clashed with the Democrat-dominated legislature over how much money the state should spend and what it should spend it on.
The Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, which Hogan calls the “road-kill bill,” is an outgrowth of that battle, an attempt by Democrats to force the governor to defend spending that goes to transportation projects in rural parts of the state rather than urban and suburban parts. Regardless of the merits of the bill, it puts the governor in a politically tight position by forcing him to either comply with the legislature’s transportation funding priorities or risk looking like he is unfairly favoring projects in rural, predominantly Republican areas.
The governor also addressed government corruption, which has become a prominent issue and a headache for Democratic leaders amid a bribery scandal involving officials from Prince George’s County and the distribution of liquor licenses. In his address, Hogan touted a package of anti-corruption legislation he had announced at the foot of the State House Jan. 19.
Tax relief has factored heavily into Hogan’s platform. In his first State of the State address in 2015, Hogan said he hoped to eventually make all retirement income tax-exempt. He stated this goal again in his speech Wednesday, and described his proposal to offer tax exemptions on military, police, and firefighter retirement income as a step toward that goal.
Hogan said his administration has an “unwavering commitment to education” and highlighted his proposed 2018 budget’s funding for school construction, higher education tuition relief, and scholarships for underprivileged students to attend private schools.
The governor praised the legislature for passing legislation funding scholarships for underprivileged students to attend private schools, and touted that he expanded funding for that program in his proposed 2018 budget.
Hogan’s catch phrase through the speech was “we can and must do more,” which he used to describe his views on several policy areas.
State Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, said in a statement: “Governor Hogan said many things I agree with. But he ignored the elephant in the room — President Trump and the Trump Republicans in Washington.”
Hogan briefly alluded to Donald Trump and federal discord when he said that national politics need not divide Marylanders. He also may have hinted that he intends to play to Maryland’s moderates in the upcoming 2018 gubernatorial election, saying, “Maryland has always been called a state of middle temperament.”
Hogan enjoys an exceptionally high approval rating, attributed in part to his ability to distance himself from Trump during the presidential campaign.
As the 2018 gubernatorial election approaches, Democrats will likely try to associate Hogan with Trump, who is extremely unpopular among Marylanders.