ICYMI: The Baltimore Sun, “Gov. Wes Moore challenges Maryland to prepare for hard fiscal realities”

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Annapolis, MD – This morning, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman published the following commentary on Governor Wes Moore’s first Maryland Association of Counties keynote speech in The Baltimore Sun:

Gov. Wes Moore’s speech to county leaders at the Maryland Association of Counties Summer Conference Saturday was — surprising. Even as the economy seems to be stabilizing, and as his administration is getting praise from all corners of the state for showing up, listening, and delivering on an ambitious agenda, the Governor, a Democrat, warned of tough times ahead, and he asked for discipline.

The contrast with former Gov. Larry Hogan’s speeches at previous association conferences was striking.

Hogan, a Republican, gave a recitation of his administration’s accomplishments peppered with criticism of the General Assembly and the Martin O’Malley administration. The point was always that he had things under control, and as long as we agreed with him, we’d all be fine. He was a Reagan Republican who believed that government is the problem and free markets are the solution, so when his agencies did less they were deemed successful.

Moore is newer to government than Hogan was upon taking office, but has always called on public institutions to step up, even to leave no one behind, as he promised during his inauguration speech. He hired cabinet secretaries with experience and is demanding that they deliver on performance metrics. He walked into this year’s conference with seven months in office, an impressive list of accomplishments, and praise for showing up and listening even in the reddest corners of Maryland.

But rather than patting himself on the back and basking in the power of his office before an auditorium filled with government underlings, Moore delivered a plea for discipline in the face of hard fiscal realities.

He shared data showing Maryland’s economic growth during the last decade was only half the rate of the nation, and that personal income growth also lagged far behind the country and our neighbors. He told us that during the last four years our state economy didn’t grow at all, while Pennsylvania’s grew by $22 billion. That came as a shock to those of us who’d been hearing Hogan talk about Maryland’s economic miracle, and how we went from one of the worst to one of the best places to do business under his leadership. But we rarely checked that data.

Moore made the point that pandemic-driven federal funding had given us a false sense of progress, and that without that money the Department of Legislative Services’ five years of warnings about structural deficits must be heeded.

But it wasn’t a doomsday speech. Moore wasn’t saying that we won’t be able to implement the blueprint for education’s service year option, or infrastructure investments — or that we’ll have to leave people behind after all. He was saying that we can’t spend money we don’t have, and that we have the assets and the talent to create the economic growth that will deliver on the revenue side of the balance sheet. He was saying we must create economic growth and that government has a role in that.

Moore believes in government’s ability to solve problems, but he’s more pro-business than most Republicans. He talked to the conference about our state’s economic assets, about making it easier to get permits, and about the infrastructure, services, and educated workforce that businesses are looking for. He worked on Wall Street during the 2008 financial crisis and he’s run businesses himself. This man knows how competition works.

I walked out of the auditorium at the Ocean City Convention Center Saturday with a smile on my face despite having been told that tough times are ahead. I was smiling because finally I’ve heard some clear-headed talk that isn’t us versus them, that isn’t capitalism versus socialism, that isn’t Republican versus Democrat, that isn’t urban versus rural. It’s cold-hard facts about dollars and cents and assets and challenges, with a call for good old-fashioned discipline to get from here to there.

If I can understand it, maybe we all can.