Fact check: Filling in the details on Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's rosy view of bipartisan state
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan delivered his State of the State speech Wednesday, touting many accomplishments during his first four years in office. The Republican gave himself credit for a few strokes of good fortune on tax relief, and seemed to be banking on getting all of the Chesapeake Bay funding he’s proposed for the next fiscal year. Here’s a look at the address:
Hogan: “We cut taxes, tolls and fees by $1.2 billion.”
Facts: There’s more to the story. Hogan touted this tax cut repeatedly last year on the gubernatorial campaign trail. The tally includes $282 million in savings for Maryland businesses and individuals that were beyond his control: $240 million came as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision and $42 million in reductions to the unemployment insurance tax that resets by law each year based on how much money is in the state trust fund to pay unemployment claims. Some of the remaining $900 million in cuts came from Democratic-sponsored bills he signed.
Hogan: “While we have bent the curve downward on prescription opioid and heroin overdose deaths, an even more deadly drug, fentanyl, is infecting and poisoning America.”
Facts: Opioid-related overdose deaths have increased 126 percent from 888 in 2014 to 2,009 in 2017, the state’s most recent annual data. While overdose deaths from heroin and prescription opioids declined in 2017 from a 2016 record high, they were still up 86 percent (heroin) and 25 percent (prescriptions) from 2014, the year Hogan was elected to his first, four-year term. To be sure, fentanyl is driving the overall increase. The substance was found in 1,594 overdose deaths in 2017, nearly nine times more than the 186 in 2014.
Hogan: “Together, we enacted landmark legislation to stabilize the individual marketplace and to create an innovative reinsurance program in our state. Thank you for rising to the challenge and working together with us to stop the 50-percent increases in insurance rates to instead achieve lower rates for the first time in a decade.”
Facts: Hogan helped champion a state-level tax on insurance carriers to generate $350 million to help shore up the individual health insurance market. Hogan’s staff does not consider this a new tax; it was previously paid to the federal government, which discontinued it for 2019. It was indeed a bipartisan effort with Hogan and lawmakers from both parties.
Hogan: “We cleared away the tangle of regulatory undergrowth and paved the way for historic economic growth and record job creation. More businesses are open and more people are working than ever before in the history of our state.”
Facts: It’s accurate that nonfarm employment in Maryland has grown under Hogan. Maryland has added 126,000 jobs since December 2014, former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last full month in office, hitting 2,767,000 employed in December 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hogan: “For the fifth year in row, my budget provides historic, record-high funding for our schools. We have invested $32 billion in K-12 education.
Facts: There was no way for Maryland to have anything other than record funding. Bebe Verdery, director of the ACLU of Maryland’s education program, puts it this way: “Every governor has had record funding because we have a state law that requires the governor to put that money in.” As enrollment grows, funding goes higher each year. The governor’s office notes Hogan could have reduced funding over his tenure during budget negotiations with the General Assembly, but that he has instead consistently provided funding beyond what’s required.
Hogan: “In November, a panel of federal judges unanimously ruled that the boundary lines of Maryland’s 6th congressional district are unconstitutional and ordered that new electoral lines for the 6th district be drawn by next month.”
Facts: It’s not quite that urgent. In November, a three-judge federal court ruled the state unconstitutionally drew the congressional district boundaries to benefit Democrats. The panel set a March 7 deadline for a new map. But the U.S. Supreme Court has since agreed to hear on March 26 an appeal by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and that means a deadline for a redrawn map will be set after the high court rules or July 1 — whichever comes first. Frosh asked the high court to hear the case in hopes of getting clear guidance on the standards Maryland political leaders need to apply when they draw future maps.
Hogan: “The very first budget that I submitted eliminated nearly all of the $5.1 billion structural deficit we inherited, and, in the latest budget I just submitted to you, we have managed to put $1.3 billion into savings for our future needs.”
Facts: The $5.1 billion figure represents the hole Maryland would have been in if it had taken no corrective action for five years starting in 2015. Hogan made impressive strides toward eliminating the structural deficit during his first year and has continued to do so.
Chesapeake Bay Restoration
Hogan: "We fully funded all bay restoration efforts four years in a row and invested $5 billion, the most ever in history."
Facts: The governor appears to be getting a little ahead of himself. Funding has increased overall from $871 million in fiscal year 2015 to $1.1 billion last year. But the total for the first four years is $3.8 billion. You have to add the budgeted amount for fiscal year 2020 to get to $5 billion, and that hasn’t yet been approved by the General Assembly.
Hogan: “While partisanship, dysfunction, and gridlock have become commonplace just down the road in Washington, here in Annapolis, we have chosen a different path.”
Facts: Sure, the state capital is more functional than Washington. What isn’t?