Hogan Talks Budget Shortfall, Not Purple Line In MoCo Address

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Governor-elect Larry Hogan focused almost solely on fixing the state’s projected budget shortfall during a speech Friday in front of more than 800 Montgomery County elected officials, business owners, school officials and others in North Bethesda.

During a short question and answer session with reporters beforehand, the Republican from Anne Arundel County had little to say about the Purple Line, the $2.4 billion light rail system he indicated he won’t support during the gubernatorial campaign.

“I’ve said we have to take a look at if we can still afford it and that’s still the case,” Hogan said when asked where he stands on the project.

“It doesn’t really impact us much because we still gotta look at the state’s role. It doesn’t matter what the federal government does,” Hogan said when asked if $100 million toward the project in the new federal spending bill will affect his view.

With that, Hogan was whisked away into the main event hall at the Bethesda North Marriott, where the Committee for Montgomery was once again holding its legislative breakfast.

A long line of local officials and business leaders formed to greet Hogan as he made his way to the main stage. Hogan entered the Republican primary for governor after the Committee for Montgomery event last year, during which all candidates took part in a forum.

Still, the focus then was on the Democratic candidates. Few in the room expected a Republican to win the general election as Hogan did in November.

“I know that many of you in this room probably did not think I was going to be the one addressing you as governor elect,” Hogan said in his speech. “In fact let’s face it, no one in this room thought I was going to be here this morning.”

Hogan quipped that statistician and political prognosticator Nate Silver “is now looking for a new line of work,” after saying there was a 94 percent chance that Democrat Anthony Brown would win the Maryland gubernatorial election.

He then went on to talk about the state’s predicted $800 million budget shortfall, a total he said could well reach $1 billion.

“While there’s not a lot that an incoming administration can do to tweak a budget that’s been in the works for so long, what we can do is dispense with the political spin and the rhetoric and let you know exactly where things really do stand,” Hogan said.

He blamed outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration for 40 tax hikes and $540 million in corporate tax breaks he claimed led to residents and businesses “voting with their feet” by leaving the state and depleting its tax base.

“What we’re learning is deeply concerning,” Hogan said. “We are not going to agree on everything, nor should we be expected to. But unless we work together to fix this budget mess and fix this economy, we will no longer be able to invest in those priorities in which we do agree.”

Hogan went on to mention a “world-class education” system, environmental protection, public safety and road and infrastructure projects as those priorities.

He also said while Montgomery County has performed better economically than other jurisdictions around the state, “it’s not immune to the challenge facing the state as a whole.”

“Restoring our economy begins with putting our budget in order,” Hogan said. “State leaders have failed to make the tough decisions and they’ve been making the wrong decisions for very long.”

Later, Nancy King, the new chair of the county’s State Senate delegation, started her speech by saying, “I guess our challenge has been set out for us this morning. It’s kind of daunting for us isn’t it?”

As Hogan continues to indicate he’ll cut state spending, Montgomery County political leaders are hoping that doesn’t mean he stops the Purple Line project, which could need between $350 million and $750 million of state funding.

They’re also again going to attempt getting a school construction bonding bill from the state’s General Assembly, an effort that picked up little steam last year.

“Hang in there with us,” King told attendees as she finished her speech.

After his speech at the event, County Executive Isiah Leggett told reporters he didn’t push the Purple Line issue too hard when he met with Hogan for breakfast on Thursday at a restaurant in Burtonsville.

A photo of the meeting appeared to show Leggett paying the bill for the meal. A reporter asked on Friday if that was the case.

“I did,” Leggett said, in between laughs. “But I have a tab that I will send to him later on.”

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