Most of the 800 or so Montgomery County civic and business leaders who packed a North Bethesda hotel ballroom Friday morning had hoped to be listening to another keynote speaker.
And Gov.-elect Larry Hogan couldn’t resist rubbing it in just a bit.
“Now, I realize that Montgomery County was one of the three lonely counties that unfortunately voted the wrong way from the entire rest of the state,” said Hogan (R), referring to Maryland’s two other Democratic strongholds, Prince George’s County and the city of Baltimore, carried by his opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D).
Election results aside, Hogan told those at the Committee for Montgomery’s annual legislative breakfast that he needs the support of county business and political leadership.
“To succeed, I’m going to need all your help,” Hogan said. “It doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is, or whether you voted for me or not. We’re all going to have to work together.”
But Montgomery leaders hoping for signs that Hogan is prepared to help with big-ticket projects, such as the Purple Line, heard little that was encouraging. Instead, the governor-elect focused on the prospect of a two-year budget shortfall that could reach $1 billion.
“Unless we work together to fix this budget mess,” he said, it would be impossible to address such areas as schools, the environment, roads and infrastructure.
Hogan spoke about the “productive” breakfast meeting he had Thursday with County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), praising his six-point economic plan for making the county a more attractive destination for businesses.
“There are an awful lot of things we agree on and much common ground for us to work together on,” Hogan said.
But there seemed to be as much distance. Hogan criticized “gas taxes that were jacked up to pay for transportation projects,” a measure Leggett spent years pushing. Although Leggett’s new economic plan features a proposed $30 million property tax abatement program to lure more businesses to the county, Hogan criticized “special deals” in the form of $544 million in tax credits under Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
Hogan noted that although Montgomery weathered the recession better than most of the state, “punishing taxes and daunting regulations” were crushing a new group of first American-generation small businesses trying to establish themselves.
Leggett, who spoke after Hogan, made it clear that while he was prepared to work with the new governor, it was important that his administration recognize that Montgomery’s role as the “economic-development engine of the state” was at risk without investments in mass transit.
“We can’t do that if we are choked and unable to move forward on transit projects,” Leggett said, adding that new development in the pipeline could add as many as 100,000 jobs to the county economy.
“Those jobs look good on paper, but they will stay on paper unless we are able to ensure that we have transportation moving forward,” he said.
While Leggett said he was ready to collaborate with Hogan, “the last time I checked, I am county executive of Montgomery County” and the county’s needs “should be paramount in what we do in Annapolis.”
In an interview after his remarks, Leggett said that despite the new federal spending bill passed this week that provides $100 million for the Purple Line, Hogan was “noncommittal” about the light-rail project. He said, however, that he was “hopeful and optimistic” and prepared “to give him the benefit of the doubt” for the time being.
The two men met for breakfast Thursday at Siebel’s, a restaurant near Leggett’s Burtonsville home in eastern Montgomery. A photo posted on county Web site showed Leggett picking up the bill.
“I have a tab I will send to him later on,” Leggett said.