If Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) has a secret plan to be flexible and compromise with Democrats over taxes and spending when he takes office next month, he’s doing an excellent job of hiding it.
In public comments last week and in an interview with me, Hogan stuck to the same hard line on the need to shrink government, the position that carried him to an upset victory in the November election.
Democrats in Annapolis and Washington’s Maryland suburbs are wringing their hands and cautiously expressing hope that Hogan will be more accommodating once he has to deal with the realities of governing.
Wait until he has to deal with the General Assembly, they say. He needs to meet us halfway or he won’t get reelected, they suggest.
No softening is visible. Although Hogan and his advisers are still working out the details, they said cuts will be necessary in coming years in state support for K-12 education, universities and colleges, and health care for the poor.
“On November 4, the people of Maryland rejected massive spending increases and tax increases and a failing economy,” Hogan said at a news conference in Annapolis on Thursday. “We’ll have to have the courage to say no.”
The impact could fall especially heavily in the Washington region, where a slew of cherished projects look likely to be chopped or delayed.
New school buildings for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties? Hogan said in the interview that the state can’t afford all of the demands, given the sizeable deficits facing the state.
The Purple Line light-rail project and more money for the Metro transit system? “My priority is building roads,” Hogan said.
A new hospital for Prince George’s, which County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) identified as his No. 1 priority in a meeting with the governor-elect? Hogan: “I was pretty frank with him about the fact that while it’s a worthwhile program, I couldn’t commit at this point.”
Although Hogan insisted his stance has nothing to do with the fact that Montgomery and Prince George’s voted against him, he acknowledged that he wanted to strengthen the focus on rural parts of the state that supported him.
“We are going to probably pay attention to Western Maryland and Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, where they’ve felt completely left out,” Hogan said.
He said he was going to push for tax reductions in his first budget, even though that will require additional trims in spending and face opposition from legislators from the Washington suburbs.
“It’s not popular in Montgomery County, and it’s not popular in Prince George’s County,” Hogan said. “But we won overwhelmingly in 20 out of 24 jurisdictions [in the state] because they want their taxes cut.”
Montgomery Democrats said they were dismayed at the tone of Hogan’s speech Friday in North Bethesda to 800 county civic and business leaders.
Although Hogan said he wanted to find common ground with his political opponents, he spent much of his speech assailing what he viewed as failed Democratic economic policies.
“I think he blew a great opportunity to make a good first impression,” Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) said. “He gave a campaign speech. It was not a crowd that wanted to hear rhetoric.”
In Hogan’s defense, he is merely staying true to what he told voters during the race. He also is sticking to his promise not to seek changes in Maryland’s liberal policies on such social issues as abortion, same-sex marriage and gun control.
“I’m a fiscal conservative. I want to fix the economy. That’s all I’m concerned about,” Hogan said in the interview.
Hogan signaled strongly that he will not spend money on new rail-transit projects such as the Purple Line, which would link Bethesda and New Carrollton.
“The priorities are out of whack. Less than 10 percent of the people use mass transit. Most people in the state want the roads to be fixed,” Hogan said.
Asked how he would deal with the Democrats who control both chambers of the legislature, Hogan said he knew any honeymoon would end when “we actually have to put out the tough choices” on the budget.
He said the public would welcome some give-and-take after eight years when Democrats controlled all branches of government.
“There was a monopoly where everybody agreed, and we got bad government,” Hogan said. “There’s going to be some natural friction, but it doesn’t have to be hostile.”
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.