Hogan Becomes Governor, Pledges Bipartisanship and Hope; Budget Blues Begin, Courting Franchot

January 22, 2015


Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd Governor on Wednesday 1/21/15, with an optimistic view of the state’s future and calls for bipartisanship to solve the state’s economic problems. But it will take much more than hope and optimism to solve massive budget shortfalls and to forge a new path in Annapolis.

Under a light snowfall at the ceremonies outside the State House in Annapolis, Hogan took the oath of office in a feel-good event that highlighted his overwhelmingly successful election campaign themes to ‘change Maryland’ via lower taxes, fewer government regulations on business, and fiscal responsibility in state government. And those election themes, spoken by a moderate-sounding Republican with a personable and nice-guy image, resonated with state voters.

“Today we celebrate a new beginning for Maryland,” Hogan said Wednesday. “Let us renew our sense of optimism. Together let’s make Maryland a place we can all be proud of again.”

A rarity in recent state political history as a Republican governor in a majority Democrat state, Hogan repeatedly called for bipartisanship in his inaugural address, saying that his administration would seek “real bipartisan, common-sense solutions” to state problems. And, unlike the partisan divides in Washington, Hogan said, “the politics that divide our nation need not divide our state.”

But once the festivities of inauguration day subside, Hogan faces many huge hurdles in dealing with a majority Democratic General Assembly, a deficit-riddled current and upcoming fiscal year budgets, huge pressures from business and political leaders in Montgomery County and Baltimore City for continued state funds for rail transportation projects, and conflicting demands for state support from the rural counties, including Cecil County, that were the core of his electoral victory.

And perhaps most intriguing of all, there is the delicate balance Hogan faces of courting and dealing with state Comptroller Peter Franchot, a moderate Democrat who will likely hold the balance of power on the state Board of Public Works that decides many key state fiscal policies.

Hogan has limited Annapolis experience, other than serving as appointments secretary to the last state GOP governor, Robert Ehrlich. Hogan has no deep ties in the General Assembly and, until his run for governor, had no roots or significant allies in statewide politics.

Perhaps Hogan’s greatest asset is his personable approach to citizens and local officials and his ability to listen to their concerns. Just contrast his campaign ads and on-the-stump appearances during the campaign to the deer-in-the-headlights aloofness of the Democrat he defeated in November, former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

But Hogan faces an early trial by budget fire, with an expected $750 million deficit for the upcoming Fiscal 2016 budget year that he will have to close to produce the balanced budget required by state law. Hogan will discuss his budget plans in Annapolis on Thursday 1/22/15 with formal presentation of his budget the following day.

The feel-good vibe in Annapolis on inauguration day may not last the week, as the budget knives come crashing down on a wide array of programs and services. Although there are many new faces in the General Assembly this session, Democrats are still firmly in charge and Ehrlich, the last Republican governor in the state, spent much of his four year term embroiled in battles with legislators.

But Hogan may be able to take a page from Martin O’Malley’s playbook if he runs into trouble with the Democrat-controlled legislature on budget issues— recent pledges of bipartisanship by House and Senate leaders aside. The state’s three-member Board of Public Works can make unilateral cuts in state spending, of up to 25 percent of a program or department’s allocation.

In his final days as governor, O’Malley pushed a package of over $200 million in budget cuts for the current budget year through the Board of Public Works. A similar amount of other cuts proposed by O’Malley would require General Assembly approval.

Winning a majority in the General Assembly for a spending cut is a lot tougher than winning one vote on the Board of Public Works. State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, whose term continues in the new administration, is a Democrat who usually sided with O’Malley on the BPW. The wild card then, and now, is Franchot, a former state legislator from Takoma Park in Montgomery County who started political life as a classic liberal but morphed in later years—and especially after becoming the independently-elected Comptroller—into a fiscal “watchdog” who frequently clashed with O’Malley on fiscal issues. (The sitting governor holds the third seat on the panel.)

Since his election as governor, Hogan has done some public courting of Franchot—shopping with him on the Eastern Shore for a “shop local” event to promote patronage of local small businesses, and signing a petition for Franchot’s recent pet project: to start school sessions after Labor Day as a way to extend the tourism season and promote local economic development.

Franchot, who easily won re-election as Comptroller, had considered a run in the Democratic primary for governor in 2014 but decided against it and seems to have a firm grip on the state Comptroller position for as long as he wants it. Indeed, shortly before the new governor was sworn into office, Franchot was feted at a big-bucks fundraising event in Washington to replenish his political campaign fund.

It was one thing for Franchot to sound alarms at some of O’Malley’s fiscal misadventures but quite another to buy-in to a new Republican governor’s agenda. The independent-minded Franchot can be expected to raise questions about some of Hogan’s priorities, too.

So the most interesting dance in Annapolis, after the inaugural ball’s music has faded, could be the two-step between Hogan and Franchot.

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