After a rush of schmoozing and ceremony, a hush rolled over the Maryland State House mid-afternoon Wednesday as public officials trickled back to their offices and temporary apartments surrounding State Circle.
One day down, 89 to go.
We distilled the day’s events from offices deep in the State House basement. Here’s what we learned on the session’s first day:
Moore walks back his employment promise
One year ago, Gov. Wes Moore was pressed for details on his promise to rebuild government, and said that he would fill half of the 10,000 state employee vacancies in his first year.
“If I could turn back time, I also think that I set the wrong metric,” Moore said. “When I was sitting here last year, we talked about the idea of rebuilding state governments and how we needed to fill these vacancies. ... I actually don’t think that I gave the right metric.”
The net gain of state employees — counting new hires against resignations and retirements — has been just 1,200, Moore told Daily Record reporter Jack Hogan at the opening day “Eye on Annapolis” summit.
“One of the lessons learned is I’m actually not interested in rebuilding someone else’s government,” he said.
A better measurement, the Democratic governor said, would be whether the state government workforce is delivering services to the state’s residents: Are unemployment benefits being paid on time? Are 911 calls answered quickly? Can businesses get permits?
Words of the day — and maybe the session
As lawmakers wade through tough policy issues, they often land on key words that become session soundbites. Last year, lawmakers from both parties quickly adopted Moore’s campaign slogan of “leave no one behind,” for example, and used variations of the phrase themselves.
If the first day is any indication, we may be hearing some of these words over and over for the next 89 days.
Accountability: In talks on juvenile justice, Moore and lawmakers repeated their demand for it from the state’s juvenile services agency and youth who have committed crimes.
Growth: Sen. President Bill Ferguson has said the theme for the session for him is growth, “growing Maryland’s economy in a way that creates safer and stronger communities overall.”
Affordability: On everyone’s lips Wednesday was talk of increasing affordable housing. Ferguson called housing prices the No. 1 driver of inflation during a pre-session news conference.
Safety: Public safety is job No. 1 for Moore, who one day ahead of session rolled out a public safety package applauded by law enforcement, prosecutors and violence prevention and youth advocates. Meanwhile, the legislative branch targets the system responsible for redirecting crime-involved youth along a better path.
Money on their minds
The state budget is shaping up to be one of the challenges of the session, as the amount of money coming into state coffers isn’t keeping up with all the promises the government has made.
The question everyone wants to know, and no one has clearly answered yet: Will this mean broad-based tax increases for Marylanders?
Here’s some of what leaders said on the prospect of tax increases:
Moore: “We have to focus on being fiscally disciplined and coming up with fiscally disciplined ways of making our economy grow, and there’s going to be a very high bar.”
Ferguson: “We are going to have to be fiscally prudent and we’re gonna have to get back into the habit of really sharpening your pencils.”
Jones: “We know we have some tough decisions to make ahead of us to pass the balanced budget as we do every year.”
Bipartisan support for leaders
Lawmakers in Annapolis often boast that they have more civility and cooperation than their counterparts down the road on Capitol Hill — and that was on display with the reelection of the presiding officers.
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, both Democrats, were elected on unanimous votes Wednesday. Compare that to the U.S. House of Representatives, where a slim Republican majority struggled to elect and keep a speaker this fall amid partisan and intraparty discord.
Even though Republicans are outnumbered in the State House by a 2-to-1 margin, none objected to Jones or Ferguson.
But make no mistake, the two presiding officers are Democrats. And it was Democratic lawmakers who nominated each of them and lavished praise on them.
Del. Vanessa Atterbeary fawned over Jones as she rose to nominate her for a fifth full turn as speaker of the House of Delegates, calling her a leader who “cares about doing what they believe is right” and leading " with strength and compassion.”
“This individual has a leadership team that unequivocally has their back,” the Howard County Democrat said. “And this individual speaks softly but carries a big stick.”
In the Senate, Republican leader Sen. Steve Hershey from the Eastern Shore offered to Democrats: “We look forward to working with you all in the spirit of cooperation, while still maintaining our Republican values.”
Sen. Joanne Benson from Prince George’s County had the duty of nominating Ferguson as president. She called him “a devoted husband, a father, a son, a skilled, consensus-building focused leader and friend.”
“His knowledge and background more than prepares him to lead us through a session, when there is a need to make decisions and shepherd legislation which are designed to not leave anyone behind,” Benson said.