- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Gov. Larry Hogan wants to take more control of the budget process as a way of steering Maryland toward long-term fiscal health.

The Republican governor outlined his spending priorities for his second year in office on Thursday. While not mentioning his Democratic predecessor, Martin O’Malley, by name, Hogan said the state’s finances were chronically mismanaged for eight years.

“Basically we’re paying down the bar tab that they walked out on,” Hogan said.

Hogan said he would fully fund all spending increases required by law - mandates that account for 83 percent of the state budget. But in exchange, he said he won’t allow the Democratic-controlled legislature to tweak funding formulas as it has in the past.

Hogan also plans to propose $400 million in tax cuts over five years, but he declined to provide details about those cuts, saying only that they would benefit working families, retirees and small businesses.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch said he’s curious about how the cuts would be paid for, given the governor’s stated goal of reducing spending.

“What’s the cost?” Busch said. “What programs do you reduce or cut to make that happen?”

Hogan has already proposed some new spending this year: $75 million to demolish blighted homes in Baltimore, starting in the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived. Civil unrest that followed Gray’s death from a spinal injury he suffered in police custody last year produced the first major crisis of Hogan’s tenure. He called in the National Guard to restore order.

Hogan said the events in Baltimore reinforced his mandate to rein in spending.

“The next recession, federal shutdown, riot, major weather event or other unforeseen emergency could easily plunge our state back into a fiscal crisis,” he said.

Hogan scored a surprising 2014 victory in overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland after a campaign focused on fiscal restraint and tax relief. Recent polls have shown he remains popular after a first year during which he cut highway tolls around the state and reduced or eliminated dozens of government fees.

But he will need Democratic support to push through his new tax cut proposals. He also plans to introduce a bill that would reduce mandated spending hikes in years when state revenues don’t keep pace. As with the tax cuts, he did not provide details, prompting criticism from Democrats.

“Last year, Gov. Hogan made deep cuts to public education, the state workforce and services for the developmentally disabled, and raised college tuition. ‘Mandate relief’ is just Hogan-speak for ‘larger class sizes’ or ‘higher tuition bills,’” Maryland Democratic Party executive director Pat Murray said in a statement.

Hogan’s first year was also marked by a personal challenge: He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and underwent radiation treatment and chemotherapy. He announced in November that he is cancer-free, and after sporting a bald head for several months, his gray hair has started to grow back.

“There were a couple of things I would rather not happen. Riots and cancer come to mind,” Hogan said. “But I think we dealt with both of those in a good way and in both cases I learned a lot about the people of Maryland and what they’re made of.”


Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/ben-nuckols.

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