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Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed an executive order releasing $69 million for Democratic priorities that former governor Larry Hogan (R) had held back as part of a flurry of changes he said ushered in a new era after eight years of divided government.
The order freed up money for training new abortion providers, addressing climate change, standing up the state’s recreational cannabis industry and launching a paid family leave program that lawmakers approved last year. Moore also signed an order laying out ethics rules for the executive branch and another that creates a new Cabinet-level position within state government to focus on public service.
The actions by Moore on Thursday marked a shift in tone in Annapolis, offering a first glimpse of the former nonprofit chief and political newcomer’s plans to navigate advancing bold ambitions in unfamiliar terrain.
“We view the General Assembly as partners, not adversaries, in our collective work and our collective effort to produce a budget that thoughtfully uses data to invest taxpayer dollars in programs, services and initiatives that will address the most pressing concerns of communities all over the state of Maryland,” Moore said at the start of a packed day of meetings and news conferences.
During his campaign and in his inaugural address Wednesday, the author and combat veteran-turned-politician proposed ending child poverty, closing the wealth gap, increasing the minimum wage, creating a better education system and building an economy focused on clean energy, among other things.
Questions still linger over how — and how hard — Moore will push the vision he has laid out.
He presents his first budget on Friday to leaders of the General Assembly, which could also provide another signal of the plans he has for his first legislative session.
Moore said he will include seed money in his first budget to stand up the Department of Service and Civic Innovation, a state agency focused on public service, but would not give details on how much would be allocated. He said the department would serve as a hub of volunteer and service efforts and administer one of his top initiatives: a program for high school graduates to spend a year providing service in their communities. The agency, which requires legislative approval, will also need a secretary, which he said will soon be named.
The governor has largely assembled his Cabinet but still has yet to appoint secretaries of higher education and transportation. The incoming transportation secretary will oversee construction of the Purple Line, which is $1.46 billion over budget, more than 4½ years behind schedule and facing additional delays.
In addition to expanding mass transit options between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, local officials are relying on the Purple Line’s 21 light-rail stations to spur redevelopment in their aging, auto-centric inner suburbs. A new transportation chief also will help decide how, and whether, to pursue a Hogan administration plan to expand Interstate 270 and part of the Capital Beltway with express toll lanes built, financed and operated by the private sector. The Hogan administration had planned to clinch approval for a 50-year contract before he left office but was delayed by a longer than expected environmental approval process.
Moore has publicly criticized the proposed toll lanes as being too expensive for most motorists and said the state should consider other ways to alleviate traffic congestion, such as by using highway shoulders and expanding MARC commuter rail service.
A majority of the $69 million he released will be used to support cannabis reform, with $46.5 million to be spent on growing small, minority and women-owned businesses to participate in the industry, expungements, and a public health initiative; $10 million to support paid family leave; $9 million to implement the Climate Solutions Now Act; and $3.5 million to expand abortion care access.
Moore’s packed calendar on Thursday, a day after a celebrity-studded swearing-in ceremony and inaugural ball, included a breakfast with the presiding officers, a late morning meeting with state and federal law enforcement officers, an afternoon meeting with his Cabinet, and a tour of the local circuit court.
“As we said yesterday, we wanted everyone to enjoy themselves and get some rest because today was going to be a work day,” Moore said with Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) and acting secretary of state Susan Lee, two former members of the General Assembly, standing by his side.
After his meeting with Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D) and Erek Barron, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland, Moore said public safety will be a major focus of his administration and appeared to offer support to increasing penalties for repeat violent offenders.
“We have to be able to address the issue,” Moore said of repeat violent offenders. “What we’re seeing in many cases, in many communities, is violent offenders and repeat violent offenders that continue causing harm in communities. So the answer to that is absolutely. We’re going to be working in coordination with both the attorney general’s office, the state’s attorney’s office in local jurisdictions and also with the legislature.”
Moore did not directly respond to a question of whether he would push lawmakers to increase penalties, which would be a potential battle in a legislature that has moved toward the left in recent years.
For years, Hogan unsuccessfully pushed for increased penalties for repeat violent offenders. His bill never passed out of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.