MARYLAND GOV. Larry Hogan, who never held elective office before voters chose him last fall, was true to his promise to govern from the center in the first legislative session of his term. As a Republican governor faced with Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, he presented modest initiatives: measured tax breaks for first-responders, military veterans and small businesses; a repeal of the so-called “rain tax” on stormwater runoff, his main campaign talking point; small budget cuts to public schools and state worker pay; a sensible bill to encourage creation of more charter schools.
Despite tactical blunders, Mr. Hogan did not try to force an ideologically ambitious right-wing agenda on Democrats; if he had, we’d have understood their reluctance to meet him halfway. Instead, he proceeded cautiously — and was still met with hostility and snubs from the Democrats in control.
To hear the Democratic lawmakers tell it, you’d think they had spent the session trying to rescue schools and public employees from the predations of an alien invader. In fact, in their budget impasse with the governor, they were mainly intent on protecting their party’s core constituents today and shifting the burden of paying state pensions to Maryland taxpayers in the future.
Despite Mr. Hogan’s pragmatic restraint, Democrats rejected most of his proposals; they also ignored his attempt to sustain catch-up contributions to the pension fund. They did repeal the “rain tax” but with the proviso that localities would have to devise other means to contain stormwater runoff.
On public charter schools, the legislature took a bad law and made it worse. Democrats ignored reforms sought by the governor that would have given such schools needed flexibility. Instead they weakened the chartering authority of the state board of education and created new ways for local boards to meddle in the operations of charter schools. Mr. Hogan should veto the bill.
As the session wound down, the governor at first seemed to declare victory, then wondered publicly what had become of his agenda. He warned he wouldn’t spend the tens of millions of additional dollars approved by lawmakers for schools and state worker raises, then suggested that he probably would. He said nothing for two weeks about the Democrats’ raid on pension fund contributions, then declared it a “line in the sand” he would not allow.
If Mr. Hogan was inconsistent, Democrats were unyielding and heedless of November’s election results. By slashing pension contributions, which were also halved by lawmakers last year, they simply postponed the burden of filling the pension fund and saddled future generations of taxpayers with a bill amounting to an additional $2.5 billion.
For all his rookie mistakes, Mr. Hogan was the one in Annapolis who seemed to grasp the exigencies of divided government. The Democrats, to all appearances, are still learning.