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Government & Politics

On Day Before Session, Hogan and Lawmakers Engage in Last-Minute Political Posturing

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at a State House news conference Tuesday, flanked by his chief legislative officer, Keiffer J. Mitchell (left) and Commerce Secretary Mike Gill. Photo by Joe Andrucyk/Executive Office of the Governor.

One day before the General Assembly gavels in for its annual session at high noon Wednesday, policymakers in both parties were scrambling to make news and score early political points.

The 90-day session will be dominated by the logistical realities and policy prescriptions borne of COVID-19, but will also be defined by myriad political considerations, as lawmakers gear up for their re-election battles. When the legislature leaves Annapolis in mid-April, early voting for the June 28 primary will be just two months away.

“My goal is to send each of our members back to their districts with a robust resume that will get them re-elected,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) told a midday virtual gathering convened by the Maryland Democratic Party.

At a State House news conference Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) laid out his tax reform and economic development agenda — which sounded remarkably similar to his tax cut proposals from the previous seven years.

“Next to our health recovery, nothing is more important than our continued economic recovery,” he said.

Hogan touted his plan as “the largest tax cut package in state history,” and said it would provide $4.6 billion “in much-needed relief.”

The proposal focuses on eliminating all state income taxes for retirees in Maryland. The tax cut would be phased in over time, beginning in tax year 2022. In recent years, the state has enacted retirement tax relief for law enforcement officers and first responders, as well as for military veterans, but Democrats in the legislature have resisted Hogan’s other proposed tax cuts.

Hogan is also promoting a proposal to make permanent the enhanced earned income tax credit that was included in the RELIEF Act of 2021, a bipartisan measure that provided an array of pandemic-related relief to struggling families and businesses. Additionally, the governor is introducing legislation to eliminate the filing fees for businesses that submit their annual report online with the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, including the $300 annual filing fee for companies, LLCs, and other legal entities, and $100 for family farms.

This kind of tax relief, Hogan asserted, “is something that people have been demanding for a long time. It’s why I was elected governor in the first place.”

Hogan said Democrats’ arguments against tax cuts in the past have been that the state was in a precarious financial position and couldn’t afford them. But with an estimated budget surplus of over $5 billion — thanks to recent largesse from the federal government — “we can afford it,” he said.

But the Democrats who dominate the General Assembly have other ideas for utilizing the surplus. They’re largely advocating for one-time capital expenditures to build schools, roads and bridges and to improve state parks.

On WYPR’s “Midday” Monday, House Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) noted that in past years, Hogan and his allies have warned that paying for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, an ambitious education reform package, would require tax increases. With the surplus, she said, that’s no longer the case.

“Guess what — we don’t have to” raise taxes, McIntosh said. “If we do things right this year, the blueprint could be entirely paid for.”

‘It’s hard to find a compromise’

On Tuesday morning, state Senate Republicans held a virtual news conference to say that they were in sync with Hogan’s priorities — both his tax proposals and his desire to crack down on violent criminals.

“When someone does things that really hurt people, they need to be put away and we’re not seeing that,” said Sen. Justin D. Ready (R-Carroll), the Senate’s new minority whip.

Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) lamented the legislature’s shift to the left in recent years, and suggested this session might be the last opportunity for lawmakers to get tough on crime.

“I’m fearful that if we don’t pass this this year, and the after the elections, we will never pass that legislation,” he said.

Ready also expressed skepticism that the Democrats would embrace Hogan’s tax proposals. Asked why Hogan keeps introducing the same legislation year after year on taxes without seeking common ground with the Democrats, Ready replied, “It’s hard to find a compromise when one side wants tax relief and the other side doesn’t want any.”

But Simonaire expressed some hope that “the magic” of an election year and the likelihood that voters are watching the legislature more closely this session may compel some Democrats to consider GOP priorities.

Minutes after the Senate Republicans finished their news conference Tuesday, the Maryland Democratic Party held its annual pre-session gathering — virtually, for the second year in a row.

Traditionally, this is a major schmoozefest, drawing hundreds of political leaders at all levels of government and Democratic donors to a packed Annapolis ballroom, where top Democrats discuss the upcoming session and give political pep talks. But with the absence of schmooze and lunch service, the event, which still drew more than 200 people, went fairly quickly. Online attendees heard from Maryland Democratic Chair Yvette Lewis, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, U.S. Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Jones, and Maryland Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), pinch hitting for Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who was attending the funeral, along with Hogan, of recently slain Baltimore Police Officer Keona Holley.

While the narrative on the 2022 election cycle is that it will be tough for Democrats across the U.S., even in blue Maryland, Lewis sought to project optimism, saying Democrats up and down the ballot can campaign on accomplishments at the federal, state and local levels.

“Folks who say we are in disarray and don’t have a message, we have the receipts,” she said. “Democrats deliver.”

After the speeches were over, Democrats offered their Zoom guests an opportunity to go into breakout rooms, in an attempt to simulate the networking that usually takes place at the annual luncheon.

The virtual rooms — a scanty stand-in for real-life elbow-rubbing — were a mix of free-flowing and more moderated discussions, as lawmakers, advocates and political candidates popped in and out of their Zoom squares. Some attendees and speakers longed for a return to normal.

But there was still political tension in the air, as campaigns and candidates continue to mobilize ahead of the Jan. 19 campaign finance reporting deadline for state and local candidates and the Feb. 22 filing deadline for all candidates to make the 2022 ballot.

At his news conference, Hogan was asked about the latest national media report that he’s being wooed by top Republican leaders to challenge Van Hollen in this year’s U.S. Senate race. The Associated Press reported this week that not only is U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) beseeching Hogan to run, but McConnell’s wife, former U.S. Transportation secretary Elain Chao, has been wining and dining Hogan’s wife Yumi and appealing to the couple’s sense of patriotism. But Hogan again threw cold water on the idea of a Senate bid.

“I’ve said a million times I don’t have a burning desire to serve in the U.S. Senate,” he said. “I do have a burning desire to do this job.”

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.


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On Day Before Session, Hogan and Lawmakers Engage in Last-Minute Political Posturing