This column is a slightly revised version of one that runs in the June issue of The Business Monthly.
By Len Lazarick
With the media’s typical focus on controversy and drama, a big story at the end of May was that Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed five bills for policy reasons, sometimes with harsh language.
The really big news is how many bills Hogan signed (621) and the unusually large number (84) he allowed to become law without his signature. Some of those signed and unsigned bills had run into fierce opposition by Republican legislators. A few certainly violated Hogan’s own governing principles — especially his opposition to new mandated spending and increased business regulation.
While Democrats in the legislature would love to portray Hogan as a conservative Republican obstructionist, he has actually given them little to justify their grousing.
Hogan did veto about 122 pieces of duplicate legislation — a common practice for bills that were the same as ones he signed and passed by the opposite chamber of the legislature. (Many pieces of legislation are “crossfiled” — the same bill is introduced in the House and Senate to allow a parallel process of committee hearing and votes to occur, increasing the likelihood of passage since both chambers have ample time to consider them.)
Here’s the scorecard.
The 188 legislators introduced 2,817 bills, hundreds of them duplicates. Of those, 834 bills passed both houses and were sent to Hogan for his approval, including more than130 duplicates. This means the legislature rejected 70% of the bills introduced.
Of the 30% it passed, Hogan vetoed seven, less than 1%. This is not complicated arithmetic. Legislators have even complained at the administration’s lack of involvement and testimony on many bills. But that hasn’t prevented them from passing them, and it doesn’t mean the governor won’t go along with them once they pass.
Here are some pieces of legislation that became law, despite Hogan’s governing principles and opposition by a majority of Republican lawmakers.
Hogan signed the Freedom to Vote Act, HB 1007, requiring most state agencies to set up electronic voter registration for clients, including welfare and food stamp recipients. Sponsored by virtually every Democrat in the House, who favor as many people voting as possible, the bill was opposed by most Republican delegates, though it got a unanimous vote in the Senate.
Hogan also signed a bill increasing the number of early voting sites, HB 1008, which many Republicans view as a waste of money and a move that favors Democrats. Most GOP delegates opposed the bill; again, GOP senators went along.
Equal Work, Equal Pay
Republicans in both houses sought to amend the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, HB1003, claiming it could have a serious impact on some small businesses. Among the problems they saw with the bill was that there was no limitation on how far back a worker could claim wage discrimination.
The bill allows workers to talk about their pay without retribution by the employer. Discrimination in pay based on race or gender was already illegal, but the bill added new coverage for the transgendered.
Almost every Republican legislator voted against the equal pay legislation, after losing battles on amendments in both houses. Hogan signed it May 19.
In an another business related bill, Maryland Small Business Retirement Savings Program and Trust, SB1007/HB1378, sets up state-run retirement accounts for small businesses. There was some opposition by House Republicans, unanimous support in the Senate, and Hogan signed the bill May 10. He also signed the Contraception Equity Act, SB848/HB1005, banning insurance copayments for contraceptive prescriptions and devices. There was some Republican opposition in both Houses.
Then there was the College Affordability Act, SB676/HB1014. Making college more affordable and reducing student debt seems like something everyone can support, but this bill were certain veto-bait — because not only did these bills increase tax credits for student debt, but they mandated state contributions of $250 per student into college savings plans, costing up to $10 million a year, by 2020. Hogan has sought to reduce mandated state spending without much success, and he has opposed new spending mandates since they tie the governor’s hands in controlling the budget.
Again, most Republicans in the House and Senate opposed the College Affordability Act after failing to reduce its costs. Yet, Hogan let the bills become law without his signature.
These and the other bills had veto-proof majorities; they got enough Democratic votes when they passed to override any Hogan veto, if he did so.
These are just a few examples of a number of bills Hogan signed or allowed to become law that violated his own priorities or were opposed by substantial numbers of Republican legislators.
The seven bills Hogan chose to reject passed by similar super majorities, enough to override a veto. Even though his vetoes might get overridden, as all of them have been so far, the Republican governor picks his fights carefully.
But when he chooses to fight legislation, he does so with rhetorical guns blazing.
In the case of the proposed Maryland Transit Administration Oversight and Planning Board (HB1010), Hogan said its provisions “represent a sophomoric attack on sound transportation policy by creating an unprecedented imposition of a politically-driven board to second-guess the authority of an executive branch agency.”
There are already three advisory boards for the agency which runs mass transit, commuter buses and the MARC trains. On top of everything, it “requires the administration to produce several reports and surveys at a cost of $7.3 million in fiscal 2017 alone. These funds would surely be better used to provide transit service to Maryland residents instead of supporting an unnecessary bureaucracy.”
On his veto of Clean Energy Jobs (SB921) requiring more use of renewable sources such as solar, Hogan reasoning was simple: “This legislation is a tax increase that will be levied on every single electricity ratepayer in Maryland.” Sponsors emphasized that it would only cost $1 to $1.50 per month for most households, but the impact on businesses small and large was much greater.
Very selective vetoes
Overall, Hogan has been very, very selective on the legislation he chooses to veto. Based on his own overarching goals to reduce taxes, business regulations and mandated spending, he could have vetoed a lot more bills this year. But he didn’t.
Hogan gets no credit from Democrats for signing things they support; they feel they’re entitled. Some Republicans give him no credit for a smooth budget process with no new taxes; they fault him not cutting more taxes or more of the budget.
Hogan clearly hopes the electorate will appreciate his efforts to steer a middle course with the Democrat-dominated legislature.