He warned it will be a months-long and difficult process to distribute vaccines, and characterized himself as a “straight shooter” for offering that grim timeline.
“We all desperately want to return to our normal lives. But no matter how difficult it is to hear, you deserve the truth,” Hogan said. “The truth doesn’t know party affiliation. It doesn’t care what any of us think or what we want. So many of the problems we face today as a nation are because politicians refuse to tell the hard truths when it doesn’t fit their agenda.”
The governor has received largely positive reviews for his handling of the pandemic but faced criticism for failing to acknowledge faulty coronavirus tests from South Korea and for the bumpy rollout of scarce coronavirus vaccine doses. His administration has struggled to address complaints about the state unemployment system, which buckled under the unprecedented flood of claims.
In his speech to lawmakers, Hogan pressed for swift passage of a more than $1 billion stimulus plan that would send checks to the state’s poorest families and offer a reprieve to thousands of Maryland businesses. The state Senate has advanced the proposal and added $520 million of additional spending.
Hogan urged the legislature to “pass this bill and get it to my desk as soon as possible.”
In a year when structural racism has consumed much of the national and local conversation, Hogan did not mention inequity in his remarks.
Speaking alone to cameras from his reception room, rather than to the usual packed joint session of the General Assembly, he alternately struck somber and upbeat themes.
He highlighted the contributions of nurses, small-business owners, grocery store workers, educators and others who have sacrificed and risen to the challenges of working during the pandemic. He encouraged residents to keep faith that the state will emerge in good shape.
“Even during the toughest moments of this past year, I still remain incredibly optimistic about the resilience of our people and the future of our state,” he said. “After the longest and most difficult year anyone could imagine, I know that Marylanders are frustrated and completely fed up with this virus. Believe me, no one is more eager than I am to put this pandemic behind us.”
Hogan touted the benefits of coronavirus vaccines, saying the science behind them is solid and encouraging people to sign up to be administered doses. More than 2.1 million Maryland residents are currently eligible, but only 80,000 doses are available each week. In addition, large numbers of nursing home and health-care workers were reluctant to take the vaccine in the first stage of the rollout.
In some earlier State of the State addresses, the governor has swiped at policies pushed by the Democratic-controlled legislature on fighting crime in Baltimore or imposing higher taxes. This year, there were no direct critiques.
Hogan, who is fighting against a likely veto override by the General Assembly of a bill that would impose a tax on digital ads, made one veiled reference about raising taxes during the economic recovery.
“During this time of unprecedented crisis, we need to be lifting people up — not dragging them down. The last thing Marylanders need is higher taxes,” he said.
In the Democratic response, House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) said the legislature plans to work with Hogan to provide immediate relief to families and businesses affected by the pandemic.
Just hours before Hogan’s speech, the Senate moved an amended version of the relief bill, which is expected to be taken up later this week for a final vote. The amended bill includes additional money for a host of individuals and groups hit hard by the pandemic, including $40 million to provide $1,000 grants to jobless residents with unemployment checks in limbo and $10 million to provide additional grants to entertainment venues.
Luedtke said the lawmakers will “not hesitate to demand better from the governor and all of state government,” including on unemployment benefits and the “bungled” vaccine rollout.
He called on Hogan to partner with the legislature to address structural injustice, including efforts to overhaul policing.
“Maryland was founded on a promise of freedom and opportunity,” Luedtke said. “But that is a promise that has throughout our history been delivered unevenly, particularly for Marylanders of color.”
Hogan called for a moment of silence for the more than 7,200 residents killed by the virus. “It seems as if people have simply become numb to the daily reports on the number of deaths,” he said. “But my heart breaks for every single one of them. Each and every one of those victims leaves behind countless loved ones and countless unfinished dreams.”