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Senate President Miller: Hogan listening to the wrong people

Senate Pres. Thomas V. "Mike" Miller (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Senate Pres. Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. enters the 2017 session leading the 47-member chamber for his 30th year but just his seventh with a Republican governor.

And while he describes Gov. Larry Hogan as a friend, Miller has felt the sting of the governor’s political attacks, most recently on a transportation funding bill passed by the legislature, vetoed by the governor and then later overriden by lawmakers. The longest-serving Senate president in the state and the longest currently serving in the country, Miller believes this year, the third year of the term, has the potential to be the most politically contentious of Hogan’s tenure.

In an interview with The Daily Record prior to the start of the 2017 General Assembly session, Miller discussed his relationship with Hogan and his outlook and goals for the coming session.

What follows is a condensed version of that interview.

What is your outlook for the 2017 session? The governor seems to be a little more vocal than we’ve seen him in the last two years on his priorities. What is your impression of the coming session?

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Miller: I’m hoping for the very best, quite frankly. Being vocal is good, especially if you communicate with people have a vote with reference to what you hope to accomplish. So announcing the manufacturing initiative (last week) in Baltimore didn’t make a whole lot of sense without talking to the people who had problems with the bill last year and finding out what was wrong with the bill last year and who were the opponents of the bill last year and what did they have to say and how do we move forward and make this happen. The opponents of the bill last year primarily were manufacturers in Baltimore City. They said, ‘You’re going to bring new manufacturers here, give them these tax credits. We’ve been here, we’re here. They’re going to take our jobs away and they’re going to have a reduced overhead because of your tax credits.’

I’m hoping for the best. I’m really hoping for the best. At the same time this is happening they’re running ads against me in my district.

 Who’s running ads against you?

The governor. The governor’s people on this (transportation) bill that’s advisory only.

You’re referring to the transportation transparency act?

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

It’s advisory only. Everybody knows it’s advisory only.

He’s got people on the second floor that have been here from before, moderate people Marty Madden, Bobby Neall, people like that, but he doesn’t listen to them. He doesn’t give them any face time. The people he listens to are the people focused on helping him get re-elected. It’s all politics. All politics.

They come up with slogans. They focus on his popularity, not governing. What governance is working hard but spending your political capital, your popularity by making tough decisions. It’s nice to be popular but it’s more important to move the state forward.

At the beginning of the term, you described your relationship with the governor as a friendship. Has this put a strain on the relationship?

It does. It does.

Do you still consider yourself friends with Governor Hogan?

I would. Friends have got to forgive the faults of their friends and missteps of their friends. If someone is truly a friend and someone makes a misstep then you forgive that and you move on. My wife, she sees what they say about me and she says, ‘He’s not your friend.’ He’s got my sisters upset, he’s got my daughters upset.

The thing that upsets me most about it is that I’ve told him and his secretary of transportation and his advisers, ‘Tell me what you don’t like about the bill and I’ll fix it.” One guy said, ‘If I do, I’ll lose my job.” So right now I’ve got one of the more moderate persons up on the floor crafting what he thinks are good changes and we’ll look at it.

The governor has said he believes the legislature will repeal the Transportation Transparency Act. Do you think that’s going to happen?

Miller: Not a chance.

Is there a scenario where this might look like what the legislature did regarding the stormwater management fee that Hogan calls ‘the rain tax?

I’m happy to make whatever changes is necessary. The bill in its current form is advisory only. What the governor doesn’t like is that the people sitting in gridlock in Baltimore City or the Baltimore Beltway or the Washington Beltway are going to be able to see why we are building a road to West Virginia. Why are we building a rural road to Delaware and nothing is being done in the metropolitan areas where there is gridlock? You do a poll in the Washington area and transportation and gridlock are more important than law enforcement and education.

Isn’t the flip side of this argument, the administration says people in rural Maryland need roads, too, and for the last eight years under former Governor O’Malley they didn’t have the attention that they should have gotten?

Miller: Absolutely. They should but it should be based on merit and that’s what this bill says. You set up the standards, governor. You determine what the standards are and you determine what weight should be placed on them. That’s totally up to you. And once you make that decision, you put a road about what you think the standard should be in place of one then you need to say why. It doesn’t mandate anything. It doesn’t change his ability to do anything.

Do you think the legislature will try to undo the governor’s executive order on post-Labor Day school starts?

No. We established a commission that recommended it — the Democrats did. We created a commission under the O’Malley administration to look at it and they said, ‘We can get it done.’

Does popularity play into this? The issue is very popular with the public.

Absolutely. I come from a family of schoolteachers. They’re also moms. They say we can live with it. But if you’re from an area where snow days are a problem or young people have special needs, those counties should have the flexibility to get a waiver to adjust for those problems.

The governor has not been able yet to sustain any of his vetoes. Do you anticipate that the legislature will overturn these vetoes?

I think the one veto that we’ll focus on is the renewable energy bill. Maryland is an environmentally fragile state. We’ve made great progress over the last 30 plus years.

 The governor sees that as a $100 million tax on ratepayers in Maryland.

It’s no tax in Maryland whatsoever. It might amount to a 50 cent fee per month for clean air, for clean water, for protecting our soil, protecting our water, protecting our land for our grandchildren.

The governor  also proposed a paid sick leave bill he said is more moderate and won’t hurt businesses like the legislative proposal passed last year by the House of Delegates.

It does nothing. What he’s dealing with is cartels, monopolies and major corporations which already have in place vacation, sick leave, pensions, time off for pregnancy. If you have a company that large, you’ve got to have a plan in place. What we’re talking about is for everybody.

Should local governments be barred from having laws on issues like paid sick leave that differ from the state?

That needs to be part of the discussion especially with reference to minimum wage.

The governor this week ordered all of the school systems to come before the Board of Public Works at the end of the month to discuss school construction recommendations.  Do you foresee the legislature making changes how the committee is structured of overseen?

I don’t anticipate that being an issue this year. I do anticipate this Beg-a-thon, whereby the governor wants to have the school superintendents, the county executive, the county councils, the board of education come before him and his ally (Comptroller Peter) Franchot and beg for their projects — schools should be built, just like roads, they should be built where there’s a need to be built.

Schools should be built where there is a need to have them built and not on raw politics. That’s what this is all about. Peter Franchot and Larry Hogan saying to elected officials and educators, ‘Come before me and make your case and if I think, politically, it’s the right thing to do we’re going to do it.’ Not whether it’s meritorious or not but politically whether it is good for the two of us.

The governor says it’s about transparency and accountability.

It’s about politics. It’s about power and politics and it’s demeaning and it’s degrading. It should not happen in a civilized democratic society.

But the governor has said school systems that don’t come won’t have their projects funded.

It’s horrible. It’s absolutely outrageous.

Are we going to have a fracking ban this year?

Probably a moratorium, a continued moratorium.

The issue is this: It applies to only two counties, Garrett and Allegany — heavily Republican counties. You’ve got people from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, Baltimore City and others telling these two counties how they can and can’t use their land. Both of these counties are very challenged in terms of jobs, in terms of their need for economic development. Whether you like fracking or you don’t like it, it provides a boost for the economy. It provides jobs. It provides increased salaries but it needs to be closely monitored. Environmental safeguards need to be 100 percent. A gold standard needs to be in place. Right now the governor has not put those gold standards in place.

State Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles called the proposed regulations the platinum standard.

They’re not. They’re not. They’re not. You ask the environmentalists and they don’t like them.

Environmental groups don’t like anything that would lead to fracking though.

They don’t feel it complies with what needs to be complied with. At the same time fracking is not economically feasible in Maryland. There might come a time when it is, 10 or 15 years from now when we need the natural gas. When we need the clean energy. There are platinum standards in existence, which they aren’t here right now. We need to have that option.

Will the legislature take up the issue of bail reform and the state’s cash bail system?

We’re going to take it up because it’s the right thing to do. At the present time there are huge conflicts.

What we’d like to do is when people are arrested and taken before a commissioner, this is an arm of the judiciary, have the judiciary make the determination of whether they are indigent or not and at the same time determine whether or not they are entitled to a (state-provided attorney) and whether or not they are entitled to bail. If they are indigent and a bail is set, we’d require that they see a judge within 24 hours. That’s the good news. It’s a good law, a good proposal, more than 30 states do that. But it might mean that a judge is going to have to work on a Saturday. They don’t like that. We think that is a small sacrifice.

Do you see a circumstance under which we would get rid of the cash bail system in Maryland?

Miller: No.

There’s no one to go after these people when they don’t show up for court. We need someone to do that. We don’t want the sheriffs to do it or the police to do it. They perform a very valuable service. There are people who want to get rid of them but if you get rid of them you’re going to have criminals on the street who are not coming back and nobody went looking for them and that’s bad.

 


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