ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan, a first-term Republican with a sky-high job approval rating, bills himself as a moderate and bipartisan figure willing to work with Democrats, including Comptroller Peter Franchot and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. But he also says he is unafraid to cut his own path, and when necessary go around the Democratic-controlled legislature as he did to lower tolls in 2015.
Hogan has been willing to use Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch as political foils and trade accusations that each side is playing politics. Miller, who has described Hogan as a friend, frequently notes the governor’s lack of time in any elected office prior to serving as governor and an almost slavish-devotion to running state government like a business. The relationship between Hogan and Busch is more contentious and less friendly.
In an interview Friday with The Daily Record prior to the start of the 2017 General Assembly session, Hogan discussed his first two years in office, his goals for the remainder of his first term, his desire to tame the budget deficit and lower taxes as well as his relationship with Miller and Busch.
What follows is a condensed version of that interview.
You’re midway through your first term, almost. What have you learned from your first two General Assembly sessions and how will that translate into your approach of your third session?
Hogan: We had some successes and we’ve gotten some things done. We’ve tried to work as best we can in a bipartisan fashion, and we obviously don’t agree on everything, but we’re going to continue to try and work with the legislature on both sides of the aisle. We’re going to continue to do the same basic themes we’ve been focused on but we’re going to be maybe a little more aggressive this session, a little more of a legislative package and we’re going to try to get some things done. This is a good time to get things done. It will be more difficult in the last session in the middle of a campaign year to accomplish a lot.
When you say “more aggressive” what do you mean?
Hogan: I think it’s going to be, you know, the politics is going to get a little more heated from some of the folks in the legislature next year. Not to say it’s going to be a breeze this year but …
But you said you would be a little move aggressive this year in terms of your agenda, are we already starting to see that in terms of what you’ve announced with your paid sick leave proposal and also the environmental package you rolled out (last week)?
And the jobs thing we rolled out (Thursday) and the transportation stuff. We have a number of other policy rollouts that you’ll be seeing in the near future.
Democrats criticized you on Facebook Thursday over your job-creation claims, saying your record is not as good as you would like people to believe. How do you respond to that?
I didn’t see it. I don’t think anyone sees their posts on Facebook.
I find it hard to believe that you or someone on your staff hasn’t seen it.
Somebody mentioned it but I haven’t seen it. Look, it’s just ludicrous. The previous governor lost 100,000 jobs. We’ve created 70,000 jobs. We’ve brought unemployment all the way down to 4.2 percent. it’s a dramatic improvement. We’re doing better than many people in the rest of the country. It’s the best job growth in 15 years. That’s just the facts.
One of the components of your manufacturing bill that you announced (Thursday) is a tax credit for existing manufacturers in the state who add jobs. Was that, in part, a response to concerns legislators and businesses expressed about your bill that failed last year?
Absolutely. It’s a jobs bill and our primary objective was and still is to try to find a way to attract new jobs to those areas that are not experiencing the kind of economic resurgence that we are in the rest of the state. We’ve created 70,000 jobs. Best job growth in 15 years. Last year, 2015, was the best year for businesses in 15 years. Unbelievable economic turnaround but Baltimore City, a couple counties in Western Maryland and a couple counties on the Eastern Shore, they’re not, they still have higher unemployment than the rest of the state.
I want to bring jobs to areas that need them the most. Last year, we ran into some opposition because in attracting a company to move in from out of state and bring jobs to Baltimore City, some of the existing manufacturers said, ‘Hey, what about us if we create more jobs? What about helping us?’ It made perfect sense to me.
Douglass Mayer (Hogan’s spokesman): Plus there was politics involved last year.
Hogan: You think?
Last year there was also a discussion over a tax cut that ultimately failed at the end of the session. The state is facing some budget challenges. Are tax cuts also likely to be part of the discussion this session?
I guess we’re probably not ready to announce budget and tax issues because it probably will be one of our rollouts. I guess we’ll have to see. I’ve got to keep you guessing.
Would you say you are optimistic about having a discussion about tax cuts with the legislature?
We’re going to be focused on the economy and on jobs. We obviously have a tighter budget this year. It is tighter. It is more difficult this year to make everything work but we’re going to get it done.
Regarding the Transportation Transparency Act, the Senate president said he is open to making changes but (that) a repeal, as you have called for, is not in the cards. Where do you think the middle ground is?
The middle ground is that we have to stop having a system that would kill 66 out of 73 priority projects. We need to move forward with all 73 of the priority projects. The legislation, it’s got to be changed or we’ve got to get rid of it.
Last year they said they didn’t repeal the rain tax. Well, it wasn’t called a repeal but they repealed the mandate to force counties to raise taxes, OK? You can play semantics with it but the bottom line is it can’t have anything in the bill that it does now with respect to stopping all the road improvements and infrastructure needs.
So is that the middle ground, that the solution will look similar to what happened with the stormwater management fee?
I don’t care what they call it. They have to repeal all the stuff that is killing the roads. In repealing the “Road Kill Bill,” they can get as creative as they want. It has to stop doing the things it does now.
The Senate president calls it advisory only and says you are misrepresenting the bill and you can decide to fund whatever you want.
That’s crazy. So, Bryan, if it were just advisory, you don’t really have to pay any attention to it, it doesn’t really do anything, why was it passed as emergency legislation and sent up to me? Why did they work so hard to override the veto? And if it doesn’t do anything, why are we arguing? Why don’t they stop fighting? They didn’t need to do it. It doesn’t accomplish anything, according to them. That’s not true.
We can’t have to justify every single project and have none of them score well under the bill.
What they were trying to do was take money away from any suburban or rural areas and put it into the more urban areas. They wanted more transit and less roads. They didn’t even accomplish that because Montgomery (County) got screwed and Prince George’s and Baltimore County and Baltimore City lost everything.
(Note: House Bill 1013 was passed early enough to force the governor to sign or veto the bill before the end of session but was not designated as emergency legislation)
You and the Senate president have both at times described your relationship as being friends. How would you describe the state of your relationship with the Speaker of the House?
You know, it’s never been as close. I haven’t known Mike Busch as long as I’ve known Mike Miller, and it’s been more difficult. We’ve reached out a lot and tried to have a number of meetings. There’s not a lot of communication, but we’re going to keep trying.
There’s been talk that you and the Speaker of the House haven’t really talked in about a year and the last conversation wasn’t a very cordial conversation.
I don’t remember any non-cordial conversation. We have talked a couple of times. We haven’t had any long, sit-down meetings. We’ve been at a number of things together and talked briefly and had very cordial conversations.
What do you think it is that prevents the two of you from improving that relationship, do you think? And, do you want to improve it?
I’d love to improve it. I’ve reached out time and again and invited him over to Government House to have lunch and reached out and said any time you want to meet we’re happy to do so. We’ve called to set things up and he’s said, ‘I don’t have anything to talk about. Don’t need to meet.’ And when we do meet, sometimes it’s just not that productive.