Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, in his first high-profile appearance in Montgomery County since his upset victory five weeks ago, Friday appealed for support from the county’s political and business leadership – often with a dash of humor.
“I know that many of you in this room probably did not think I was going to be the one addressing you here this morning as governor-elect,” Hogan said to laughter from a crowd of more than 700 people that packed the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Convention Center for the annual legislative breakfast of the Committee for Montgomery. It was an allusion to his upset victory over Democrat Anthony Brown on Nov. 4, despite losing in Montgomery County by more than a 3-2 margin.
Along with an olive branch – he noted that 10 of 60 members of his transition team are from Montgomery County, “far more than any other county” – came a repetition of some of Hogan’s campaign trail criticisms of the outgoing administration of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, coupled with stern warnings about the economic situation facing the state.
In his address to a crowd in which many sported lapel stickers reading “The Purple Line – Connecting Communities,” Hogan made no mention of the $2.5 billion light rail project that he often criticized during this year’s campaign. Hogan has been silent on the issue since the election.
Asked at a brief press conference prior to the speech whether he and County Executive Ike Leggett had discussed the Purple Line Thursday when they held their first meeting since the election, Hogan responded: “We didn’t talk much about the Purple Line. The subject came up, and we basically said we’re in the initial stages of budget review – so that we don’t have any real decisions or things that we can talk about. But we talked about transportation in general.”
When a reporter suggested that Hogan’s shifting rhetoric on the Purple Line had caused confusion during the campaign, Hogan responded, “I don’t think there was much confusion at all. We said we have to take a look at whether we can afford it, and that’s still the case.”
He downplayed the commitment of $100 million to the Purple Line in the coming year’s federal budget—the first installment of what is expected to be a total of $900 million in federal support. “We still have to look at the state’s role,” Hogan said, referring to the $360 million to $760 million in state funding that may be required for the project. “It doesn’t matter what the federal government does.”
At the press briefing, he was also non-committal on another leading legislative priority for the county: increased state aid for school construction. “It’s one of the difficulties we’re going to have to wrestle with as we try to figure out how to deal with this billion dollar shortfall we’re left with,” he told reporters, alluding to recent economic projections that the state faces an $800 million budget shortfall that he said could rise to $1 billion.
In his speech, Hogan declared, “Since Election Day, we have been poring over the state’s finances, and what we are learning is of deep concern. While there are pockets of wealth and growth in Maryland, particularly here in Montgomery County, overall our economy is stalled.”
He added: “We are not going to agree on everything, nor should we be expected to. But unless we work together to fix the budget mess and restore our economy, we will no longer be able to invest in those priorities on which we do agree – a world class education, safeguarding our environment, building and repairing our roads and infrastructure, addressing our health and public safety challenges.” It was closest he came during the speech to mentioning such issues as school construction assistance and the Purple Line.
Hogan went out of his way to praise Leggett, saying of his meeting Thursday with the county executive, “What I found is there are an awful lot of things that we agreed on, and there is much common ground for us to work together on, particularly with regard to job creation, job training and economic development.”
Leggett, who addressed the crowd after Hogan had left, also was conciliatory toward the governor-elect, but added a couple of pointed comments.
Noting the statement in Hogan’s speech that Montgomery County has been an exception in a sluggish statewide economy, Leggett said, “But, as I pointed out to him, that exception in many ways can be taken in two different directions. On the one hand, people look at Montgomery County as an exception, and therefore treat us as though we are an ATM machine. On the other hand, that exception should be taken as [an indication] that Montgomery County is an economic engine of the state of Maryland.”
Consequently, it is the interest of the entire state for Montgomery County to do well, Leggett contended, while declaring to loud applause, “We can’t do that if we are choked and unable to move forward with transit projects that we have.”