Moore celebrates bipartisan wins in second session

Moore celebrates bipartisan wins in second session

Gov. Wes Moore and Sen. Johnny Ray Salling shake hands at the signing of the PORT Act after working closely to respond to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. (Kiersten Hacker/Capital News Service)


Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS  — Gov. Wes Moore bragged the other day about “going 26 for 26” in passing his bills through the General Assembly, a display of bipartisan achievement he called “Maryland’s win.”

With his second legislative session now in the rearview mirror, Moore has been touting bipartisan support for his agenda the past two sessions since he took office in 2023.

Even though he and the General Assembly again failed to resolve the state’s projected long-term fiscal imbalance, Moore is still laying claim to a measure of victory. He managed to achieve his legislative goals while also navigating a crisis in the Port of Baltimore and the back-and-forth budget negotiations that had put the General Assembly at risk of an extended session.

“At a moment when people seem to care more where’d the idea come from than is it a good idea, we in Maryland, we’ve just chosen to move differently,” Moore said. “And it’s the reason we’re able to work together, that we’re able to get big things done.”

Moore celebrates his achievements as rooted in common ground, working all session to emphasize partnership and restore both bipartisanship in the legislature and cooperation with the executive — even as a rising star in national Democratic politics facing increasing divisiveness.

In January, Moore headed into the second year of his term with an extensive agenda of 16 bills and the goal of passing a state budget without raising taxes. However, in March, his plans were uprooted with just about two weeks left in the session when the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed, launching Moore and his leadership into the national spotlight.

Out of the first-year honeymoon period, Moore planned to address key issues such as public safety, affordable housing and education while facing a projected budget deficit expected to balloon to billions of dollars in the coming years. He proposed a $63.1 million spending plan that closed an expected $1.1 billion cash shortfall without a hike in taxes.

But budget negotiations shaped up to be no easy task in the General Assembly. The House had hoped to pass a $1.2 billion revenue package to address education and transportation funding needs. The Senate didn’t think the time was right to impose new taxes on Marylanders.

While negotiations were underway, the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore suddenly collapsed after a container ship collided with the structure. Moore’s attention immediately turned to Baltimore where he held daily press conferences, removing him from the public and daily wrangling of budget discussions in Annapolis.

“That’s the thing about being governor, is you don’t get to set the whole agenda,” Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel said. “Real events set the agenda. And so it was his first crisis and I thought he rose to the occasion.”

Even Republicans agreed with Moore’s priorities in responding to the Key Bridge.

“He’s rightly spending his time where the citizens of Maryland need him to be,” said Senate Minority Leader Stephen Hershey, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s.

Lawmakers have repeatedly thanked Moore for his response to the crisis and his administration’s actions to get emergency legislation passed providing relief to port workers and businesses. Despite being absent as budget negotiations got down to the wire, many lawmakers, including key Republicans, have said publicly that Moore was exactly where he needed to be.

Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, R-Baltimore County, said Moore has been “above and beyond,” approachable and communicative about the next steps as a leader.

“I’ve always said we work together and we work across the aisle because it’s the only thing we can do to get things done,” Salling said. “But again, we might not agree with everything. But it doesn’t mean that we can move forward in other areas.”

Moore also put his weight behind the PORT Act, which will provide relief for port workers and businesses as well as establish a scholarship fund for families of transportation workers who died on the job. Sponsored by Senate President Bill Ferguson and Del. Luke Clippinger, both South Baltimore Democrats, the measure passed in the late hours of the final day of session.

Ferguson said he’s known the governor personally for a while and he excels as a leader of people as he did in combat. The law was the first of many to receive Moore’s signature.

“The legislation will empower our administration to stay nimble in our response in the collapse,” Moore. “Even though session is now over, it does not mean Maryland’s response will cease.”

Moore also racked up a win when the General Assembly responded to his pressure to reach a compromise on the budget. The spending plan they approved will increase taxes and fees on things like tobacco products and vehicle registration fees but does not include broader sales or income tax hikes. Revenues generated from these taxes and fees will be used to fund trauma resources, transportation projects and the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan.

However, the state faces a darker fiscal picture down the road and will need to come up with new solutions for funding programs and projects. Moore has repeatedly said he has a “high bar” for raising taxes, and he has told reporters in recent days that will continue throughout his term.

This session was a year for smaller steps toward resolving more long-term budget issues, said Rosapepe, vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

The House wanted to pass an aggressive increase in revenues to fund priorities like transportation, education and the environment, which Rosapepe said are needed. But the Senate and the governor wanted to take it “one step at a time,” Rosapepe said, and they were able to work well with the House to reach a compromise.

“We made progress, we didn’t solve all the problems in the world, we rarely do in one session, we never do in one session,” Rosapepe said.

The budget ensures that “we’re not going backward” on transportation while funding the Blueprint for the next few years and making a down payment on climate change goals, Rosapepe said, but more steps will need to come in the future.

The rest of Moore’s bills on his agenda passed by midnight on the final day of session, including his package of housing bills.

Moore emphasized working in partnership with the General Assembly as a main theme of this session, and many lawmakers saw that come to fruition on both sides of the aisle.

“Governor Moore totally has a partnership mindset,” Rosapepe said. “And I hear my Republican colleagues speaking very highly of him too, in that regard.”

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