Did Hogan change Maryland for the better?
Did Larry Hogan really change Maryland for the better in his eight years as governor?
Of course, he did. He says so himself in a new 68-page glossy magazine filled with photos and accomplishments. Its cover proudly proclaims, “We changed Maryland for the Better — Hogan-Rutherford Administration 2015-2023.”
I picked up the magazine Nov. 30 when I accidentally found myself in the VIP reception for the “2022 Governor’s Celebration” at the Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland next to Arundel Mills. The press passes were handed out at the VIP desk, and I simply followed the crowd up the elevator and down the hall and suddenly realized the gov was there shaking hands, hugging and posing for phone selfies, as he loves to do. There were cabinet secretaries, former staffers and assorted big wigs. Nobody said, “You’re not supposed to be here,” as they would have if I had asked to attend.
There on the balcony overlooking the large hall and stage five floors below were stacks of this fancy brochure documenting all the ways Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford had done good.
Over the last two years, the governor has reminded me several times that I was the first journalist to cover his fledgling Change Maryland organization in 2011. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s press secretary commented that my story was helping launch Hogan’s campaign for governor. Turned out to be true. Hogan has even attributed his choice of Rutherford to some speculation I wrote.
Truth and spin
Much in the magazine is true, though spun in the most positive way. The first section, for instance, is headlined “The Greatest Economic Turnaround in America.” Many in business may not have noticed.
Hogan has talked about “43 consecutive tax hikes” under O’Malley so many times that most people have forgotten that the original number researched by Change Maryland included about 20 increases in fees — like charges for birth and death certificates — and tolls, which go for building and maintenance of highways, bridges and tunnels. And yes, Hogan cut tolls, which he could do without the approval of the Democratic legislature. And there has been some trimming of taxes around the edges for retirees and increases in Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps folks with lower wages.
But Maryland taxes, particularly its progressive income tax, are still high. That’s why the Tax Foundation — which doesn’t like taxes — ranks Maryland 46th in the country on its 2023 State Business Tax Climate. Only Connecticut, California, New York and New Jersey rank worse. When Hogan took office in 2015, Maryland ranked 39th in the index. So by the standards of the Tax Foundation, Maryland has actually gotten worse.
This is why the Hogan administration prefers CNBC’s Top States for Business ranking Maryland 27th based on different factors. But that’s far better than its CNBC rank of 36th when Hogan took office, yet a big drop from Maryland’s 12th place ranking in 2021, which Hogan bragged about. Maryland scores best on measures of workforce, life & health, and technology, but continues to rank low on the cost of doing business, 44th in that category.
Progressives nearly choked when Hogan changed the highway welcoming signs to say, “We’re open for business.” But businesses report that state agencies have gotten more responsive in recent years. Yet many people suffered from the massive problems with doling out unemployment insurance during the pandemic and Hogan-ordered lockdowns that went with it.
Balancing the budget
This claim in the magazine really leaped out.
“On his first full day in office, Governor Hogan submitted the state’s first balanced budget in a decade, which eliminated nearly all of the crushing $5.1 billion structural deficit he inherited.”
Having covered the state budget for most of that decade, all the budgets were technically “balanced,” the way the state constitution requires them to be. But they were balanced with tax hikes, raiding special funds and budgeting gimmicks.
Hogan achieved his balancing act by withholding pay hikes, cutting aid to counties and reducing mandated school funding, though it was still record spending on education as he claims because it goes up by law automatically every year.
Hogan’s first budget came in at $40 billion, this year’s budget came in at $55 billion, a 38% increase over his first, but with a surplus of $5 billion that Gov.-elect Wes Moore will surely find a way to spend given all his campaign promises.
Hogan made many promises as well but failed to achieve the major tax cuts he was hoping for.
The magazine touts “Rebuilding Maryland’s — and America’s — Infrastructure” made possible partly by the O’Malley gas tax hike Hogan did not roll back. He also touts the Purple Line, the light rail project from Bethesda to New Carrolton, without mentioning that it is over budget and behind schedule due to lawsuits and a dispute with the original contractor.
One of the most striking aspects of this glossy mag is the diversity shown in the photos of Hogan with Marylanders of every shape and shade and politics. One full-page photo is strikingly inclusive and bipartisan. It shows Hogan at a bill signing shaking the hand of House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the first Black person and first woman to hold the job. Behind them are seven legislators, all but one Democrats, including the majority leaders of both houses, Howard County’s own Sen. Guy Guzzone, the budget chair, and Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“More Efficient & Effective Government,” says the headline, belying the fact that these folks have consistently overrode Hogan’s vetoes of major substantive legislation, such as increasing the minimum wage and making police more accountable. But Hogan has picked his fights with the Democrats carefully, allowing a record number of laws with which he disagreed to become law without his signature, an unusual provision of the state constitution.
At that Nov. 30 celebration, Hogan took the stage after a campaign style video and broadly hinted at his future plans on the national stage. In her new book, “Blue-State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose,” Goucher College professor and pollster Mileah Kromer examines the rough path that Hogan faces in a Trumpy Republican Party. But as an alternative to Trump, he can point to this 68-page record of accomplishments. And much of it is true.