- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Republican Gov. Larry Hogan laid out an ambitious legislative agenda Wednesday in his first State of the State speech, proposing several forms of tax relief, charter school expansion and reforms to how Maryland draws its legislative districts.

Some Democrats, however, were angered by Hogan’s characterization of Maryland as having a “floundering” economy. They also questioned where Hogan would find the money to cut taxes, after struggling to close a $750 million budget hole.

“High taxes, over-regulation and an anti-business attitude are clearly the cause of our economic problems,” Hogan said. “Our economy is floundering, and too many Marylanders have been struggling just to get by.”

On tax relief, Hogan said he will push to repeal income taxes on pensions for retired military, police, fire and first responders. The governor plans to support a measure to repeal automatic increases to Maryland’s gas tax approved in 2013 to keep up with inflation. In addition, Hogan said he wants to push for a cut to personal property taxes to help small businesses. And the governor plans to follow through on a campaign promise to repeal a storm water management fee critics have called “the rain tax.”

Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, said the new governor went too far, both in his negative description of the state’s current economic condition and in the tax relief he was proposing. Critics said he sounded like a candidate who has yet to make the transition to governing.

“It’s wrong to paint such a dire picture,”┬ásaid Del. Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery County. “We earn money. We make money. We’re a prosperous state. Do we want to be better? Absolutely. But I really object to the notion of saying that we’re some sort of fiscal hell hole, because that’s simply not true.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who described Hogan’s budget proposal as “masterful” less than two weeks ago, said he was disappointed in the speech.

“Maybe he’ll grow into the job, I hope he will,” Miller, D-Calvert, said. “I hope he’ll understand what’s doable, and he’ll tell the truth to the people that this is what we can achieve working together. But the responsible thing to do is to say, ‘Governor we can’t do these things until we can afford them.’ It’s going to take adults to tell him that, adults to make it happen.”

Republicans, thrilled to have one of their own in the governor’s office, commended Hogan for presenting an ambitious roadmap forward and offering a view more in touch with the voters who elected him than political mainstays in Annapolis.

“He wasn’t dressing it up,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore County. “He was being brutally honest to Marylanders. And after that, now he’s laying out his plan of what he thinks it’s gonna take to turn it around and to move this state forward.”

Hogan campaigned on tax relief. He also campaigned on restoring state aid for local transportation needs, and he put a down payment on the goal this week by adding $25 million.

Hogan ended on a surprise note by proposing to put the state’s legislative redistricting process in the hands of an independent, bipartisan commission. Currently, the governor draws the state’s eight congressional districts every 10 years and submits it to the Legislature for a vote. Critics have said Maryland has some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation.

“This is not a distinction that we should be proud of,” Hogan said.

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