January 11, 2017

5 Political Debates To Watch In Annapolis In 2017

Maryland's state capitol building in Annapolis.

Maryland's state capitol building in Annapolis.

Maryland’s General Assembly gathers today for the start of this year’s legislative session, which is already mired in partisan squabbles over a number of issues. Kojo spoke with Erin Cox, politics reporter and Maryland State House Bureau Chief for the Baltimore Sun to better understand the debates ahead. Based on their conversation on previous Kojo Show conversations, here are five things to watch out for:

1. Threats over transportation

Last year, state Democrats forced a transportation bill into law by overruling Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto. The law requires Hogan to adhere to a point system to determine which state transportation projects receive funding. Calling the bill’s system too cumbersome, Hogan said repealing the law was his “top priority” in 2017. Democrats say repealing it is a “non-starter,” but the Governor has threatened to cancel transportation projects while blaming the law. “Before we even start this session, the stacks have been set pretty high that if the Democrats don’t acquiesce, Hogan intends to make them pay for it,” said Cox today.

2. The rates of renewable energy

This year’s legislative session will begin with lawmakers attempting to override Hogan’s veto of a bill that would require companies to use more renewable energy sources. In 2016, the governor passed on the bill because of a surcharge on rate-payers. In order to win the governor’s race in 2018, Democrats “need to show what they did [in 2017] that Republicans could not,” says Cox. “Getting more renewable sources is a key way to pin the governor as not on the side of most Democrats.”

3. School choice

While charter schools and school voucher programs have picked up popularity in many states, Maryland has been reticent to adopt non-traditional school programs. In 2016, after holding out for a decade, state lawmakers passed a school voucher program for private schools. And this year, Gov. Hogan wants to double state funding of those vouchers from $5 to $10 million. Democrat lawmakers and school officials are already speaking out against this proposal, arguing the program will take away from funds that could be spent on public schools. Meanwhile in Washington, schools choice lobbyist Betsy DeVos is President-Elect Trump’s nominee to become the next U.S. Education Secretary. While Hogan has positioned himself far away from the president-elect, this is one area where the might agree. “Hogan has taken great pains to not be partisan and has demonstrated that he’s above all else a pragmatist,” says Cox on the governor’s relationship to the president-elect. So while he didn’t support Donald Trump, “he’ll look for ways to use a Trump White House to his advantage whether that’s on infrastructure spending or any other policy issue, on which Hogan and Trump are aligned.”

4. The conservative take on “progressive” causes

This year, Hogan’s legislative agenda includes plans for issues that have typically been viewed as progressive causes: paid sick leave, a cap on in-state university tuition and a tax credit for manufacturing companies that relocate to low-employment areas. These are issues the Democrats have championed in the past, so Hogan’s critics see his paid sick leave policy as a way to assert more control over an issue he may have had to confront anyway. In any case, the Hogan’s legislative agenda will still need to be approved by the legislature that also has to balance the state budget.

5. The run-up to the 2018 Maryland Governor’s race

Looming over every one of these debates is next year’s governor’s race. At over 70 percent approval ratings, Hogan will likely run again. Some say that he has already begun –albeit it unofficially. Republicans are playing defense this legislative session while Democrats are looking for ways to best attack him in the next year. Expect every fight and every scandal to crop up as fodder in next year’s contest.

Want more? Listen to Erin Cox of the Baltimore Sun on Wednesday’s Kojo Show:

Previewing Maryland’s Biggest Political Debates In 2017 – The Kojo Nnamdi Show

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