Maryland's improved financial climate means the state can afford more than $500 million in tax relief, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday during his fifth State of the State speech, as he stressed the need for bipartisanship in the backdrop of divisiveness in nearby Washington — comments that have fueled speculation he is considering a run for president.
Hogan touched on a variety of subjects in his 28-minute speech to the General Assembly, including the environment, education, congressional redistricting, health care, opioid addiction and crime in Baltimore. But the Republican governor who entered his second term this month opened his speech by underscoring bipartisanship with a legislature controlled by Democrats. He closed by contrasting that cooperation with gridlock in the nation's capital.
"While partisanship, dysfunction, and gridlock have become commonplace just down the road in Washington, here in Annapolis, we have chosen a different path," Hogan said. "We have been standing up for that exhausted majority who are just sick and tired of all the angry and divisive politics. What they really want is for their elected officials in both parties to put an end to this culture of intolerance, intimidation, and inaction and just get to work and get things done."
Hogan highlighted eight different proposals for tax relief. They include tax incentives to help provide paid parental leave and tax breaks for small business owners.
"These hard-pressed Marylanders deserve a break for a change," Hogan said.
The governor also has included tax relief in his budget plan for the next fiscal year for retired military, law enforcement and fire personnel, as well as for manufacturers who create jobs in high-unemployment zones. Tax deductions on interest for student loans also have been proposed, as well as well as tax incentives to revitalize struggling communities.
Democrats who hold strong majorities in both chambers of the legislature expressed wariness about the size of the tax breaks at a time when they are planning to begin funding a long-term plan to increase education funding. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, said he would have liked to have heard the governor talk about initiatives to lower prescription drug prices, but he didn't rule out some tax relief.
"I'm not sure we're going to be able to deliver on all of it, but certainly some of what we can," Miller said after the speech.
Hogan noted one of the biggest examples of bipartisanship in his first term related to health care, when legislation was approved to stabilize the state's troubled individual marketplace and create a reinsurance plan.
"When it comes to the issue of health care, Washington has continued to fail, but Maryland has continued to lead," Hogan said, again faulting politicians in the nation's capital.
Sen. Brian Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, said he wanted to hear more details from Hogan on health care.
"We had some success last year, but it was a bit of a short term fix," Feldman said.
Del. Kathleen Dumais, who gave the Democratic response to Hogan's speech, said the governor's comments on health care were encouraging, and she said she hoped Hogan would continue working with Democrats.
"We think that some of the hard decisions or big decisions on health care are ahead of us and not necessarily behind us," Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat, said.
Hogan also called on the General Assembly to act on his proposals for redistricting reform. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in March on alleged unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts by Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland.
The governor renewed his push for tougher mandatory sentences for people who repeatedly commit violent crimes with guns, as Baltimore exceeded 300 homicides last year for the fourth year in a row.
Hogan also pledged to keep working to address problems with pollution flowing from the Susquehanna River into the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary.
"I intend to keep pushing our upstream neighbors in Pennsylvania and New York to do their fair share to protect this national treasure," Hogan said.