Eastern Shore lawmakers react to Gov. Moore’s State of the State address

This Article first appeared here on Wmdt.com

MARYLAND – Maryland Governor Wes Moore delivering his first State of the State address Wednesday; just two weeks after being sworn into office. Eastern Shore lawmakers say they’re eager to see where the new governor will take the state.

Service and Unity

A theme of service and unity was threaded through Gov. Moore’s address.

“This is a state where the opportunities are boundless, but the challenges are undeniable,” said Gov. Moore. “It is also a state where there is no obstacle we cannot address, no challenge we cannot tackle, if we are intentional, move in partnership, and commit to promoting service as a state ideal.”

Eastern Shore lawmakers say dedication to service is something everyone can agree on.

“On the Eastern Shore, that’s something that resonates very well amongst everyone. Look out for your neighbor, get busy, be productive,” said Senator Johnny Mautz.

Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes says she also looks forward to Marylanders giving back to their communities.

“I’m just grateful to hear that service is a priority under this administration,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes. “And, I say that from a personal perspective, because I grew up in the American Legion Junior Girls Auxiliary. Service to others has always been a priority.”

Investing in Education

The Moore Administration made the largest investment in public education by any governor in Maryland’s history. $8.8 billion dollars will go towards the state’s public education system.

Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes says that investment will end up paying for itself.

“The more you invest, the more you will get out of having educated young people, having an educate workforce. In turn, they become tax dollars, if you will,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes. “To be able to make these savings on the backs of these proposals and things that the Governor would like to move forward in, I think it’s awesome. But, I think it’s also bringing other people along with us.”
However, Republicans warn that there are some issues that still need to be addressed when it comes to Maryland’s students and teachers. For one, the current teacher shortage.

“We have to look at what are the root causes of some of these issues, not just say that we’re going to fill these teacher shortages,” said Delegate Wayne Hartman. “We all want a world class education for our students. But, the bottom line is, what are the results that we’re getting for this record spending?”

Specifically in Worcester County, Del. Hartman says the funding calculation model is flawed. He says that’s because Ocean City’s population changes with the seasons, putting Worcester County at a disadvantage.

“These goals and mandates are more challenging for some counties than others. If you’re serious about no child left behind, then we need to be serious and funding them equally,” said Del. Hartman.

Supporting Veterans, Ending Childhood Poverty

In Fiscal Year 2021, 377,772 veterans called Maryland home. That’s why Gov. Moore says the time is now to invest in their financial well-being. The Moore Administration introduced $200 million in targeted tax relief veterans in retirement.

Sen. Mautz says Gov. Moore’s remarks about Maryland being a home for veterans were “dead on”.

“Veterans are not Republicans or Democrats. These are people who are patriots, and are of all different political persuasions. There’s no reason that Maryland should be a farm team for other states,” said Sen. Mautz.

Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes says the veteran tax credit is “an area of hope”. She adds that it’s important to not only support them post-military duty; It’s also crucial to ensure they have a roof over their heads when they return home.

“There will be an opportunity for them to have those tax credits, to look at their retirement income differently in the state of Maryland,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes.

Del. Hartman says he also looks forward to providing more help for veterans. However, he also hopes it will be expanded in the future.

“I think we need to find ways to provide relief to retirees across the board, not just one specific group of them. I think we need to make Maryland more attractive for retirees,” said Del. Hartman.

The targeted tax relief will also apply to ending childhood poverty.

“That’s one we can all agree on. No child should be put in that position. I think our state has an obligation, or a responsibility, to rise to the occasion,” said Del. Adams.

Fighting Violent Crime, Reducing Mass Incarceration

Another big investment under the Moore Administration will encompass efforts to support law enforcement, while also fighting inequities like mass incarceration of young, Black men.

$122 million in aid will go to local police departments, and expanding the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Public Defender. Nearly $69 million in direct local law enforcement grants are invested, and $35 million will go towards the General Funds for Victims of Violent Crime Act. The Correctional Officers and Parole and Probation Agents retention incentive bonus program will receive $18 million. $8 million will go to more than 40 other positions to expand the State Police Gun Center, and Firearms Licensing Division.

“We have awesome law enforcement throughout our communities in the state of Maryland. But, it’s not a secret that we have challenges in law enforcement. We have to recognize the reality of it, and work through those challenges so we are in a much better place. But, it’s going to take both entities to do so,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes. “There are going to be barriers along the way. But, I currently believe with the partnership and the leadership that we have, it’s going to be worth the fight.”
Sen. Johnny Mautz says he will be closely watching how the future of Maryland’s law enforcement might unfold.

“He identified law enforcement. And, on the flip side, he identified the disparity. he said we need to address this,” said Sen. Mautz. “I’m not sure where that’s going to go. However, there are definitely going to be priorities to be addressed. And, his proposition was to address both of them equally.”

Del. Hartman says he is encouraged by Gov. Moore’s promise to support law enforcement. But, he wants to see more investments made in addressing crime at its root.

“He certainly did offer support to our law enforcement, and I was happy to see that. Folks need to know that folks in state government support them,” said Del. Hartman. “This isn’t something that will change overnight. I think it will take time to fix it, identifying those areas that need help.”

Meanwhile, Del. Adams says he has reservations about how much support law enforcement will actually get, moving forward.

“If you ask anybody in law enforcement, they’re struggling right now. The legislature has passed strong bills, that I think have an anti-police bias to them,” said Del. Adams. “Safe streets come with law and order. I think it starts there, and from that, comes how we as a society work toward reducing recidivism.”

Evening Out the Economy

While Del. Adams says Maryland’s budget is in a “terrific” position, he hopes Gov. Moore will be cautious while spending.

“We certainly have a surplus of nearly $5 billion. I think that does speak to conservative budgeting,” said Del. Adams. “I think we have the resources to be conservative and continue to be thoughtful about how we spend taxpayers’ dollars… If we start spending to a deficit, then that’s where tax increases come from. So, over the next handful of years, my job is to advocate for conservative budgeting.”

Ensuring financial equity for all Marylanders won’t come without challenges, says Sen. Mautz. He adds that supporting small businesses that the Eastern Shore relies on, will be highly important.

“I think those will be some issues that are debated. I’m not sure exactly how they’ll be played out as far as policies are implemented,” said Sen. Mautz. “I think that’s something that didn’t really come out in today’s remarks. That will be part of our discussion of how we are going to help people survive, or create an environment where anyone can do what they want to do.”

Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes, a member of the Spending Affordability Committee, says a top priority is ensuring that the state’s rainy day fund is at least 10% of the general fund.

“That speaks volumes to the fact that we adhere to our bond rating agency, so we can keep the AAA bond rating in our state. But then, we also are recognizing the areas that need to be strengthened,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes.

The State of the State Is…

Overall, Eastern Shore lawmakers say they are optimistic about the state of the state. They’re also looking forward to what comes next.

“There’s certainly, and will always be, work to be done. We are in a position that is good. But, we still have a lot more work to do, “said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes.

Del. Hartman echoed the Speaker Pro Tem’s sentiments.

“We have work to do from one end to the other. I’m optimistic we’ll be able to work together and get what we need, regardless of where we are,” said Del. Hartman.

In an ever-changing world of technology, amid a push for clean energy, and in the struggle to tamp down inflation, Sen. Mautz says it’s time to get to work; the same phrase that Gov. Moore used to end his address.

“We’re going to have to address it. You can’t just sit back and assume that this is going to resolve itself. It’s our job to find ways to come up with solutions,” said Sen. Mautz.

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