Rascovar on Hogan’s ‘placeholder’ address

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By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Just as Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. delivered to the General Assembly a ‘placeholder’ budget that lets him tread water till he wraps his arms about the state’s fiscal problems next year, he followed that same path in delivering his State of the State address.

It was a ‘placeholder’ speech.

He said little that was new. He offered no surprises or initiatives. All that might come next year.

It sounded more like a re-hash of his campaign themes — as though his speech-writers slapped together a speech from the Hogan for Governor files.

No wonder Republicans applauded and Democrats responded with seething silence.

Taxes are too high. We’re overregulated. We need to get government off our backs. We’re anti-business. Maryland is in trouble. It’s headed in the wrong direction.

Sure, Maryland is beautiful. Its citizens are hard working. But we’ve got to “get Maryland back on track.”

Economic turnaround

He pledged, for instance, to turn around Maryland’s economy.

Who is he kidding?

Maryland, like all states, is at the mercy of large, macro-economic trends and developments.

When bad weather pummels the East Coast, Maryland’s economy suffers. There’s not a thing Hogan or any governor can do about it.

When Congress sequesters federal funds going to the states, there’s not a thing Hogan or any governor can do to stop it from happening.

When companies send jobs overseas, there’s not much a Maryland governor can do.

When the nation’s economy tanks, Hogan can’t make that reality disappear.

Limited role

Like any governor, Hogan only can nibble around the edges to strengthen Maryland’s economy and create jobs.

He is fortunate in that the national economy continues to show slow, steady improvement. If that persists, Hogan will be a beneficiary. But he can’t claim to have helped cause it.

His State of the State address laid out a number of steps he wants to take in his first year, but few of them are realistic or achievable.

They are far too partisan.

Abolish the “rain tax.” Cut taxes. Promote charter schools. Spend more on roads. Make redistricting non-partisan. Eliminate upward gas tax adjustments.

That’s good Republican red meat.

Democrats’ response

It did not, though, win him any new friends across the aisle.

Hogan struck out with Democratic leaders. He offered them nothing in the speech. They responded with coolness, followed by sharp criticism.

Then they held up approval of his cabinet appointments.

The battle lines are hardening far earlier than anticipated.

Hogan’s speech was so short on specifics as to make it a useless document for determining how this governor intends to find common ground with Democratic lawmakers.

There was a dearth of intellectual depth, a dearth of new ideas and a dearth of inspiring rhetoric.

If there is any reason for optimism it comes from this line in Hogan’s address:

“And while I’m sure we will disagree on a few points in the coming weeks, I am prepared to create an environment of trust and cooperation, one in which the best ideas rise to the top based upon their merit, regardless of which side of the political debate they come from.”

Nice sentiments, to be sure. But it is in the follow-up that we will discover whether those thoughts are mere platitudes or a commitment Hogan intends to abide by.

Barry Rascovar’s blog can be found at www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.