On the opening day of the 2022 General Assembly session, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that it is time for the General Assembly to “double down” on tax reductions, including the elimination of taxes on retirees.
“We can’t afford not to do it,” Hogan said at The Daily Record’s Eye on Annapolis Summit, which also featured the legislature’s top two Democrats: Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County. “It’s time for taxpayers to keep some of their own money in their own pockets.”
“We cannot make decisions this year that will put us on a financial cliff four years from now,” Ferguson said. “We will be open to the conversation … but it’s got to be thoughtful and it’s got to be purposeful.”
Jones called herself “a visual person” in saying that she needs “to see all the details” and the effects that tax cuts might have on state programs.
The comments by Hogan and the legislative leaders during the morning event preceded the noon opening of the General Assembly’s 90-day session.
During his 30 minutes, the governor addressed his administration’s effort to ramp up testing sites for the COVID-19 virus and its omicron variant, his reluctance about running for the Senate despite pleas from fellow Republicans and his concern that the Democratic-led General Assembly will pass an excessively partisan state legislative redistricting map.
“This has been an incredible challenge,” Hogan said of efforts to stanch the pandemic.
“It has consumed not only me but our entire administration,” he added. “We were doing extremely well until this omicron variant came about.”
The governor, who has vigorously endorsed being fully vaccinated and boosted, said the “good news” is omicron is not as deadly as COVID-19 and its delta variant.
“We will continue to stockpile (tests) and be prepared if there is another spike,” Hogan said.
The governor addressed calls from fellow Republicans to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen this year.
“I don’t have much desire to be in the U.S. Senate,” Hogan said. “I am focused on the crisis.”
He added that being one of 100 U.S. senators means “spending all day arguing with 99 other people. I’m used to running things.”
With regard to redistricting, Hogan predicted the legislature will approve a “gerrymandered” map to ensure a Democratic supermajority in the legislature that does not reflect Maryland’s partisan diversity in which Democrats hold a two-to-one majority. He expressed regret that the General Assembly will reject a map proposed by an “independent” commission he appointed and was chaired by retired U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr.
Ferguson and Jones voiced confidence that the pandemic will not interfere with the 90-day session, in which committee hearings will be conducted remotely, as they were last year. In 2020, the session ended nearly three weeks early to stanch the spread of COVID-19.
“This is not March of 2020, and it is not January of 2021,” Ferguson said, citing the availability of vaccines. “My hope is we will be able to operate.”
The legislative leaders indicated that the General Assembly will likely approve and send to Maryland voters this fall a ballot question regarding whether marijuana use by adults should be legalized.
“Legalization is a very hard issue,” Ferguson said. “We will have really robust conversations.”
Jones said the House has assembled a work group on potential marijuana legalization and its implementation ahead of the General Assembly session.
Regarding the state’s projected surplus in excess of $5 billion over two years, Jones said much of the money should go toward improving the state’s schools and roads. Ferguson agreed, adding that funds should also go toward retaining and attracting state employees, who have been on the “front lines” of fighting and working through the pandemic.
“These are folks who have been doing the real heavy lifting,” Ferguson said. “Salaries are going to have to be part of the conversation.”
Ferguson also defended the General Assembly’s proposed legislative map as having been crafted by a “bipartisan” legislative panel, while acknowledging that its minority Republican members objected to it.
“This is a fair map” that reflects changes in Maryland’s demographics, Ferguson said. “I am confident it will withstand legal scrutiny.”
The Senate president also questioned the independence of the governor’s redistricting commission, noting that Hogan appointed its members.