ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan’s third State of the State speech left Democrats wanting more.
Hogan, a first-term Republican, tailored his roughly 25-minute speech to his focus on calls for bipartisan cooperation and his legislative initiatives, including alternative paid sick leave and environmental proposals and proposals to address the growing opioid crisis and to repeal a transportation project scoring bill.
“We have sought out common sense and common ground, rather than disparity and divisiveness,” said Hogan who has, even in the recent past, chastised Democrats who control the legislature of being overtly political and working to strip authority from the executive branch. “Working together, we have not been defined by party or ideology, but by our common purpose and our united obligation to solve problems, to make progress, and to bring real and lasting change to Maryland.”
But the annual address disappointed many Democrats who wanted to hear Hogan rail against President Donald Trump on issues such as immigration and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“What I heard in the speech was nothing particularly objectionable, exciting or noteworthy,” said Del. C. William Frick, D-Montgomery and House Majority leader. “What was noteworthy were the omissions. Absolutely no mention of the extremely destructive and upsetting policies coming out of Washington. No mention of the Muslim ban, or people coming down to BWI to protest. No mention of the Affordable Care Act that could blow a $2 billion hole in our budget and throw thousands of people off our health insurance.”
Hogan’s speech touched on what he billed as successes in the state since he took office, including the addition of 73,000 jobs, a 4.2 percent unemployment rate, and manufacturing growth.
“The state of our state is strong – stronger today than it was a year ago, and stronger than it has been in many, many years,” Hogan said.
“After two years of progress, Marylanders are heartened that the unifying promise of bipartisan change is being forged in reality,” Hogan said. “We have already accomplished a great deal. But together, we can – and we must – do more.”
Hogan’s plan to do more, in part, includes nearly three dozen bills ranging from increased funding for private schools and increasing the number of so-called P-Tech schools — high schools in which students simultaneously earn a diploma and college degree and employment experience in a technology industry. The state recently opened four such schools, including two in Baltimore City.
Additionally, Hogan called on the passage of a bill that would eliminate income taxes on the retirement incomes of police and firefighters.
“Once our national economy is fully recovered and we dig out of the state’s debt situation, I want to reach the point where we are able to eliminate all taxes on retirement income, just as other states have done,” Hogan said, calling his bill a first step.
Additionally, Hogan called for increased efforts to battle opioid addiction and protect victims of sex trafficking.
The governor also called on lawmakers to pass his version of a paid sick leave bill that he announced in December.
“Let’s strike a compromise, considering the needs of Maryland employees while not hurting our small-business job creators,” Hogan said.
“I’m not sure that’s how compromise works,” wrote Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, in a message on Twitter that was a real time response to Hogan’s speech.
Some Democrats have already criticized the plan as not providing protections to enough employees. Others found fault in his plan to provide tax incentives to businesses with less than 50 employees who voluntarily provide leave.
Hogan also called for the repeal of a bill that requires him to score and rank transportation projects, which he calls the ‘road kill bill,” as well as his proposal to institute an independent commission to redraw the state’s congressional and state legislative districts.
“I think Governor Hogan proved he is a governor for all Marylanders,” said Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R-Upper Shore and Senate Minority Whip. “It’s a very bipartisan speech and focused on a very robust legislative package of 32 different bills. He called out to legislators to look at these issues that affect Marylanders and see if we can help.”
Democrats seek link to Trump
Hogan’s speech was given a passing grade, though perhaps also with a back-handed compliment, from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Two years ago, Miller joined an angry chorus of Democrats who felt Hogan used the State of the State speech to berate them on their governance of the state under Martin O’Malley. Wednesday, Miller gave Hogan an A-minus.
“It touched in every issue that has favorable ratings when you poll it,” Miller said. “Everybody is for tax cuts — if we can afford it. We have a deficit of $400 million. Everybody is for seniors, everybody is for police and firefighters and, of course, the only reason he fully funds education is because we have to pass bills to mandate it.”
“I think he’s learned a lot in two years,” Miller said. “Like Donald Trump, he never served in the military. Like Donald Trump, he never held public office before. But unlike Donald Trump, he’s learned in the past two years that the public wants us to work together. Unlike his first State of the State speech, where he chastised government and the Maryland General Assembly, he recognized the value of working together in a bipartisan manner.”
Miller called it “masterful speech” and a “feel-good speech” presented by an elected official and a politician.
“It was a very positive, upbeat speech and I salute him for that,” Miller said.
But other Democrats were more direct in their criticism.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Democrat who is widely presumed to be vying to challenge Hogan in 2018, called Hogan’s speech “smoke and mirrors.”
“The governor talked about record funding for education but the reality is he is just funding the bare minimum he is required to fund under the law. We’ve actually seen a cut of $100 million over the last two years. The governor proposes to cut about $38 million from the (Baltimore) City schools this year.”
Kamenetz also criticized Hogan on transportation saying “he’s mismanaged the state’s transportation program, he opposes mass transit and as a result we are still stuck in traffic.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, another potential Democratic challenger to Hogan, made similar criticisms and said Hogan did little to calm residents nervous about Trump’s initial two weeks in office.
“I thought it was a missed opportunity for the governor,” Baker said. “I didn’t really hear a lot in today’s speech that would calm some of the fears that are going on around the state.”