- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan struck an optimistic tone in his State of the State address Wednesday, saying his first-year record of balancing the budget and working toward tax relief will help Maryland’s economy grow.

Mr. Hogan also pleaded for bipartisanship, calling on the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to find areas they can work together.

“Though there are sometimes points of disagreement, at the heart of each of us is a man fiercely proud of this state that we all love,” the Republican governor said. “Time and time again over the past year, we have chosen compromise over conflict, and for that I say thank you.”

He asked for support for his $400 million tax-cut plan for retirees, small business and poor families, which includes an expansion of the earned income tax credit that Democrats historically have supported.

And he warned against automatic spending increases, saying the state must be prepared for years when revenue lags. He credited his administration’s careful spending for the current $250 million surplus.

His speech was far more cordial than last year’s, which Democrats widely panned as a partisan continuation of his 2014 campaign.

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In this year’s address, Mr. Hogan praised Democratic leaders, deeming House Speaker Michael E. Busch “a man who strongly believes in sound policy” and saying Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has spent a “lifetime tirelessly working on behalf of all Marylanders.”

Mr. Miller, who represents parts of Calvert and Prince George’s counties, said this year’s address was friendlier than last year’s — but he said Mr. Hogan did not address the “tough decisions.”

“Issues that weren’t addressed include transportation in Montgomery County, a hospital in Prince George’s, the problems and needs of Baltimore city, the Chesapeake Bay and things we need to do about renewables, a host of things that were not addressed and that we need to hear on,” Mr. Miller said. “Tough decisions were not addressed. But other than that, it was a fine speech.”

Mr. Miller, breaking with his past comments, also signaled he is prepared to find common ground on lowering the state income tax.

An hour before Mr. Hogan’s speech, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the executives of Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties blasted the governor for giving their jurisdictions the “short end of the stick” in the budget. The Democratic leaders noted projects Mr. Hogan promised to fund, such the Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center and Baltimore demolition project, but did not include in the budget.

“You can’t come back to me and tell me how much I get,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III said. “It’s our money. It’s our tax dollars.”

Mr. Baker also said the governor should release $15 million the legislature appropriated in last year’s budget for Prince George’s Hospital Center.

He and other Democrats said Mr. Hogan’s speech was high on optimism but vague on specifics.

“I kept waiting for the part where he talked about the vision for the future, but he must have cut that out of the speech because I didn’t hear much about where he wants to take the state,” said state Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat.

Republican lawmakers said Democrats unhappy with last year’s more combative approach should have been happy with this year’s speech and Mr. Hogan’s commitment to bipartisanship.

“I thought it was great,” said Sen. Andrew Serafini, Washington County Republican. “I think it was responsive to those that maybe had issues last year.”

Mr. Hogan said he is willing to work with all legislators and he intends to be open-minded about ideas they present, even when he disagrees.

“While we do not have an unlimited amount of taxpayer money, we will always have an unlimited capacity to listen to worthwhile ideas and creative solutions that know no party bounds,” he said.

He also highlighted his administration’s efforts to curb the state’s heroin epidemic and pledged his commitment to helping Baltimore after its “dark days” following last year’s riots.

He touted his putting $153 million toward the city’s mass transit system, a $700 million initiative to demolish vacant and run-down homes in Baltimore and closing the troubled Baltimore City Correctional Center.

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