Republican Larry Hogan pledged Saturday that if he's elected governor, he would fully restore money to local governments to fix roads in his first budget, while Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said he would work with counties to develop a new formula for local highway user funds.
Brown and Hogan spoke Saturday at the summer conference of the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City. They appeared separately on stage to take questions that were given to a moderator by officials from the nonprofit group that advocates for county issues in state government.
The cuts to local highway user revenues, which once added up to roughly $350 million a year, have been a sore point between the state and local governments. The money was tapped by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to help balance the budget during the recession and its aftermath.
``The incumbent administration has balanced their bloated budgets on the backs of local governments, small businesses and struggling Maryland families,'' Hogan said.
Brown, a Democrat, said he would be committed to restoring the money and developing a sustainable formula to make sure counties could maintain a network of roads.
``That's an important responsibility, and we cannot each and every year come to Annapolis and discard the formula,'' Brown said.
The candidates also were asked about how they planned to improve the state's economy. Hogan focused many of his comments on criticizing O'Malley's fiscal policies. He says tax increases have made Maryland unattractive to business development.
``The impact on our state economy has been clear and dramatic, and the effect it has had on each one of your counties has been nothing short of devastating,'' Hogan said.
Brown said he would focus on creating jobs by building infrastructure.
``My opponent offers a fundamentally different future,'' Brown said. ``He would protect the interests of the privileged few and special interests.''
They were asked about their priorities in education. Brown pointed to his proposal to make pre-kindergarten universal and voluntary by the end of his first term to help close a student achievement gap. Hogan said he wanted to return more control to local officials and said his administration would collaborate closely with county leaders on numerous issues.
``We're going to have an open door,'' Hogan said. ``You're going to have a seat at the table.''
Brown said he would engage with local officials much earlier in the budget process, so they would not have to wait until January of each year to know the governor's budget plan.