- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan pressed his goals for tax relief Wednesday in his second State of the State speech. This time, though, the Republican was careful to credit Democrats for helping him make some small tax cuts last year, and he highlighted the importance of both parties working together.

The speech was received much better than Hogan’s first a year ago, when he had been in office for just a few days and angered Democrats by saying the state’s economy had floundered during one-party rule in Annapolis. Now - with a year’s experience behind him, his poll numbers high and his cancer in remission - Hogan appeared hopeful of achieving more this year despite divided government.

“Thanks to your collaboration, we have begun to clean up the problems of yesterday,” Hogan said in a 26-minute speech to a joint session of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. “Now, let’s come together once again to take care of today’s challenges, and provide for a brighter tomorrow.”

While the governor was upbeat, bitter feelings remain over the governor’s budget decisions both this year and last. Many Democrats sat as still as statues, while Republican lawmakers rose to applaud the governor during parts of his speech.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller described it as “a feel-good speech” that lacked important details about governing.

“He’s a decent man, and it was a fine speech, but like I say, in terms of leadership and moving the state forward, there are a lot of issues out there that were not addressed today,” Miller, D-Calvert, told reporters afterward.

House Speaker Michael Busch described the speech as “very conciliatory.”

Still, wounds from last year’s budget fight clearly remain, and Democrats are angry that Hogan decided not to spend $68 million they set aside in the budget for education last year. Questions about this year’s budget continue to circulate, particularly about the absence of any funds for the governor’s initiative to tear down vacant buildings in Baltimore.

“Look, I think we all want to work together, but at the same time the rhetoric of speeches has to meet the reality of what’s actually accomplished,” said Busch, D-Anne Arundel.

Democrats in Baltimore are still furious about Hogan’s refusal to pay for the Red Line, a light-rail project touted as a way to connect city residents to jobs. Democrats in Prince George’s County are concerned the governor has not included any funding for a regional medical center.

Leading officials from the state’s most populated areas including the counties of Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s, as well as the city of Baltimore, criticized Hogan at a news conference before his speech. They laughed when asked how they would score the governor’s bipartisanship so far.

“At this point, it would be zero for us in the county,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, a Democrat, said.

But fellow Republicans were supportive. Sen. Stephen Hershey, a Republican who represents parts of Cecil and Caroline counties as well as Kent and Queen Anne’s counties on the Eastern Shore, said the governor sounded the themes of bipartisanship to lay the groundwork for a productive session.

“None of us want to sit here and just bicker back and forth about partisanship and those types of issues,” Hershey said. “We come down here for 90 days. We want to accomplish some things. I think he laid out a great road map that we can all work towards.”

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