Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan gave his eighth and final State of the State speech Wednesday night, highlighting progress in the battle against COVID-19, his legislative priorities for tax relief and fighting crime, while calling for bipartisanship and a rejection of toxic politics in nearby Washington.
The term-limited governor, who has not ruled out a presidential bid, described his brand of political moderation as a better alternative to what he described as “the wedge politics and petty rhetoric being used to belittle adversaries and to inflame partisan divisions in America," when he spoke at his inauguration seven years ago.
“To those who say that America is too divided, that our political system is too broken and can’t be fixed, I would argue that we have already shown a better path forward," Hogan said, speaking from the Old Senate Chamber in the Maryland State House.
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The governor evoked the significance of the room in his speech, as the place where General George Washington came before Congress to resign his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1783. The resignation, six years before Washington was elected the nation's first president, established military deference to civilian government.
“For Maryland and for our nation, this is a place where great things begin and where great things are accomplished, and it is from this hallowed place that I have the privilege to report to you on the state of our state,” Hogan said.
The governor outlined the variety of steps his administration has taken to fight COVID-19, “bringing to bear the entire arsenal of government and public health," and improving health metrics in the state after the surge of the omicron variant. He noted that a 30-day state of emergency he announced last month will end Thursday.
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“Our surge capacity, our testing and tracing operations, our vaccine clinics — all those things will remain in place as part of the ongoing operations of government," Hogan said. "But my message to you tonight is that we must all learn to live with this virus, not to live in fear of it. We can’t let it continue to dictate how we live our lives.”
The governor also used the opportunity to call attention to his proposals to fight crime “on behalf of all the people who are sick and tired of all of the senseless violence.”
Hogan called on lawmakers to pass legislation to increase penalties for people who use guns to commit violent crimes. He underscored a measure he supports to track and publish detailed information on the sentences that are handed down by judges for violent crimes.
As lawmakers consider how to manage a $4.6 billion state budget surplus, Hogan focused attention on tax relief he has included in his budget plan. He is calling for eliminating state income taxes on retirees and making permanent an enhanced income tax credit favored by Democrats for lower-income workers that was put into place last year as a temporary measure.
“Our fiscal health and our economy are stronger than they have been in decades. But changing Maryland for the better means continuing to help the working families and seniors on fixed income who are getting squeezed by inflation and higher costs," the governor said.
Sen. Will Smith, of Montgomery County, gave the response to Hogan's speech for Democrats, who control the General Assembly. He noted that Maryland Democrats already have delivered more than $1 billion in economic stimulus, expanded voting rights and have invested record amounts in education. He said Democrats will continue to "put in place a framework to ease the burdens and address the basic concerns of Marylanders and their families.”
“We will continue to push for immediate relief for families impacted by the pandemic," said Smith, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "We will continue to invest in our communities and our small business owners who we know have gone through difficult times, and we will continue to take a comprehensive approach in addressing our public safety concerns.”
Smith also criticized the Hogan administration for letting thousands of government positions go unfilled, saying that “translates into real economic and societal loss for real Marylanders.”
“The underinvestment is what caused the epic debacle in the distribution of unemployment insurance when well over 40,000 Marylanders needed it most, and historic shortages in parole and probation officers is causing our state to be less safe," Smith said.
In his speech, Hogan underscored his proposal for increasing support for police with a three-year, $500 million investment.
“Homicides and violent crime waves are surging in nearly every major city all across the country," Hogan said. "And the violence terrorizing our neighborhoods and cities is made worse by divisive politics and the demonization of the dedicated men and women who risk their lives every day to keep us safe.