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Letter from Blair Lee, IV: Why I'm voting for Larry Hogan

Here’s why I’m voting for Larry Hogan for governor.

I don’t believe that the biggest problem facing Maryland is gun control or abortion. The biggest problem facing Maryland, and its next governor, is Maryland’s stagnant economy.

Our economy is inextricably dependent upon federal government spending. For the past century Maryland has benefitted from its proximity to the nation’s capital. We’re the home of federal employees, federal defense bases, federal agencies, federal contractors, and all the industries and businesses that thrive on the federal presence.

But, thanks to the 2010 elections, that economic engine has come to a standstill. The decline of federal employment and federal spending has stalled Maryland’s economy, which will remain stalled for the next eight years. Here’s why.

The 2010 national elections gave rise to the Tea Party backlash against Obamacare, the Wall Street bailouts, the federal stimulus and the national debt. The big news was the Republican takeover of Congress. But equally important, yet underreported, were the state elections where the GOP added eight governorships, 675 legislative seats and gained full control of 25 state governments (Dems controlled only 16).

As a result, congressional redistricting following the 2010 census favored Republicans. So, until 2022, (the next congressional redistricting) look for a Congress controlled by anti-tax, anti-spending Republicans firmly entrenched in “safe seats” thanks to GOP gerrymandering.

Maryland’s Democrats and media like to pretend that our state weathered the great recession by heroically reducing spending and by “making tough choices.” But that’s not what happened. Our state government made itself whole on the backs of its taxpayers, its local governments and its future generations.

The O’Malley/Brown administration’s illusionary $8 billion spending cut was really the elimination of vacant staff positions and a reduction in the rate of future spending, not actual cuts. So, if a program’s automatic 5 percent increase was reduced to 3 percent, it was counted as a 2 percent “spending cut.” That’s how the state budget grew 34 percent (from $29 billion to $39 billion) under O’Malley/Brown. Meanwhile, Maryland families and businesses suffered real spending cuts, not 34 percent budget increases.

O’Malley/Brown also increased 40 taxes and fees (mostly regressive) so that, today, Maryland taxpayers pay $3.1 billion more, annually, than when O’Malley/Brown took over. But these new tax hikes still weren’t enough to feed state government.
So, O’Malley/Brown made crippling cuts to local government aid programs like community colleges, police, highways and teacher pensions. They even cleaned out the local governments’ income tax reserve fund. Then, O’Malley/Brown had the gall to call screwing the locals “state spending cuts.”

But cutting local aid by billions still wasn’t enough. So O’Malley/Brown funded the state’s operating budget with debt. Here’s how: They swiped hundreds of millions of dollars from special accounts (Transportation Trust Fund, Bay restoration fund, parks and land conservation fund, etc.) and, instead of leaving these accounts depleted, backfilled them by floating bonds. That’s right, they replaced the money they swiped by borrowing $1.5 billion.

As a result, debt service is the fast-growing item in Maryland’s budget, growing from $233 million this year to $557 in 2019. Maryland now has the largest outstanding bond debt of any AAA state in the nation thanks to an administration that spent eight years complaining about the deficit it inherited back in 2007.

Another fiscal time bomb is the state’s employee pension fund which is 65 percent funded. And, instead of contributing $300 million to the pension fund this year, as promised, the Dems used $200 million for the state’s operating budget.
This can’t go on. As the economy sags and state revenues drop, we cannot sustain current spending levels by taxing, borrowing and passing pain to local governments. Yet, Democrats are emotionally incapable of making the adjustment.

To them, “making tough choices” means doing anything to avoid putting the state’s fiscal house in order. Tax and spend is in their DNA.
Larry Hogan has a clear view of a Republican governor’s role in blue-state Maryland. He says he’ll be a “goalie” to the Democratic legislature. He won’t get any bills passed, but he will veto any tax increases which, thanks to moderate Dems, lack enough votes for an override.

More importantly, he will submit a balanced budget to the legislature without any tax hikes. Because so much of the budget is mandated spending, he’ll have to slash discretionary spending. That will simply begin his budget negotiations with the legislature (which can neither increase nor transfer budget funds).

During the next eight years (two governor’s terms) Maryland’s stagnant economy is on a collision course with its reckless spending habits. But the economy isn’t going to improve, so it’s the spending habits which must change. The longer we ignore this reality, the worse the inevitable consequences.

I’m voting for Larry Hogan because Annapolis desperately needs a change agent. Vote Hogan, change Maryland before it’s too late.

Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring. He is the son of the late Blair Lee III who was Lieutenant Governor of Maryland from 1971 to 1979 and Acting Governor from 1977 to 1979. His email address is  blairleeiv@gmail.com

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