Gov. Wes Moore said during his second State of the State speech Wednesday that Maryland has boundless opportunities but is “leaving too much potential on the table” as he charts a course forward through challenging times that includes a long-term plan for governing.
The address continued a narrative by the governor and others that a state often considered to be one of the nation’s wealthiest, benefiting from proximity to the nation’s capital, has been falling short of its potential.
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Moore, a Democrat, began his speech by reflecting on his first year assembling a new government, after a rare two-term Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state. It was a year that had its challenges for a governor who had never held elected office before and pledged to bring change as the state’s first Black chief executive.
“We learned a lot of lessons, some hard lessons,” the governor said with a smile, bringing some laughs from members of the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, who gathered before him in the House of Delegates. “But solving big problems does not happen overnight. But let’s be clear, a change is happening, and today the state of our state, it is strong.”
The governor highlighted efforts to reduce child poverty and to increase jobs during his first year in office. His first year also included big headlines, with Maryland winning the site of a new FBI headquarters and challenging negotiations that resulted in a new lease with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
He also underscored initiatives to improve public safety, increase affordable housing and enhance the state’s competitiveness in business this year.
Moore also gave a glimpse of a long-term agenda for rest of his first term that he plans to detail on Thursday, a plan he says includes the input of people from across Maryland.
“Our state plan is about much more than just aspirational targets,” Moore said. “The plan that we are going to lay out, it will lay out specific, actionable, realistic, and measurable goals. And we built these priorities by listening to the people who sent us here in the first place: Our constituents.”
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Moore pointed to positives including the state’s lowest unemployment rate for the fifth month in a row. He also noted that Baltimore had the lowest number of homicides in 2023 than they’ve been each year in nearly a decade.
“And communities that have been underestimated and undervalued now have an important seat at the table in the halls of power,” Moore said.
On public safety, the governor said Marylanders are seeking justice and more accountability for people who break the law, as well as better rehabilitation for juvenile offenders. He also noted plans to do more to get illegal guns off the streets and increase the number of police officers around the state.
Crime has been a focus of Maryland Republicans, who have been calling for stronger accountability and consequences for violent criminals.
Sen. Steve Hershey said while Republicans believe the governor is sincere in prioritizing public safety, the chief executive’s plan doesn’t do enough to punish violent criminals.
“To make a real difference, the governor will have to push for a more proactive plan that defines swift and certain consequences for violent criminals, thus preventing Marylanders from becoming victims in the first place,” Hershey, the Senate Republican leader from the Eastern Shore, said in the GOP’s response to Moore’s speech.
Republicans also are wary of the condition of the state’s budget. Hershey said while Republicans were relieved Moore’s budget plan does not include tax increases, it also doesn’t identify a solution to a rising budget gap in future years, largely due to an ambitious but expensive education reform law.
The state’s economic climate has been a focus of both parties, particularly following a report last month by Comptroller Brooke Lierman, a statewide-elected Democrat. That report found the state’s economic growth effectively stalled in 2017 and has been stagnant ever since, even though the state tops the nation in several key economic categories.
The governor said his administration will invest in industries of the future, with funding for life sciences, biotech, data centers and cyber. Moore also said the administration will cut red tape that hinders businesses.
But Hershey said Maryland ranks among the worst states for tax rates, regulatory challenges and climate for fostering private sector growth. He called attention to a GOP proposal to cut the state’s corporate income tax rate from 8.25% to 6.25% over the next four years.
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The governor’s address also highlighted his administration’s proposals to make housing more affordable in Maryland. The proposals include creating new tools to drive housing development in communities that need it most, proposals to protect renters and cut red tape that makes it harder to build quality housing.