Maryland Gov. Wes Moore laid out a vision of a state full of people who wish to serve — whether it’s in their community, the military or the state workforce — in his first State of the State address on Wednesday.

Service, the new Democratic governor said, is the best way to move Maryland forward.

“At a time when civic bonds are frayed, where many feel more disconnected from their neighbors than ever before, service is the antidote to the epidemic of loneliness and otherness,” Moore said in his more than 45-minute speech before lawmakers. “Service is how we re-engage our people in the project of forming a more perfect state.”

Speaking during a special joint session of the General Assembly in the packed House of Delegates chamber in the State House, Moore expanded on a well-worn theme of service that he has advocated on the campaign trail and in his first weeks of governing.

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“I only realized recently that ‘service,’ the word, ‘service,’ comes from the Latin, servitium, which meant ‘slavery.’ It is fitting as the first African American to deliver this speech,” Moore said, interrupted by a standing ovation. “Standing in a building that was built by the hands of enslaved people, that we are now putting service, service, towards the good of all.”

Part of service, he said, includes the state government workforce, which Moore estimates has 10,000 unfilled positions, including nearly 6,100 in the executive branch. Moore has pledged to cut the vacancy rate in the executive branch in half by mid-2024.

“This isn’t about creating ‘big government,’” Moore said. “This is about creating a better one.”

The governor noted that there’s already enthusiasm for people joining state government: 2,833 people applied to join his administration and 1,589 people have applied to join state boards and commissions.

Governor Wes Moore speaks the State of the State in the House Chambers at the Maryland State House on February 1, 2023.
Gov. Wes Moore delivers the State of the State at the Maryland State House on Wednesday. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Moore also laid out broad themes for the legislation that he hopes lawmakers will pass this year, stopping short of listing many details. He hopes to give tax breaks to veterans and low-income workers, offer incentives to public school teachers and businesses and accelerate the planned increases to the minimum wage.

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Moore said he has an “audacious goal” to end child poverty in the state.

“We can, and we will, end child poverty in the state of Maryland. That mission begins this year, right now, during this legislative session,” he said.

Moore is expected to have his bills introduced soon; earlier this week he invited lawmakers to sign on as co-sponsors.

In his address, Moore did discuss his plans to create a cabinet-level department of service and create a program to pay young people to spend a year working in the community after high school graduation.

“This was not a stunt,” Moore said of the Department of Service and Civic Innovation, which he announced on his first full day in office. “This was not because it sounded nice. This was because it is a fundamental part of who I am, and it’s in the DNA of this state.”

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The department will consolidate existing state service programs and serve as the home of his planned service-year program for young people. The “service-year option” will “create a lifelong habit of service to our state, something we so desperately need,” Moore said.

Moore emphasized his intention to work in partnership with lawmakers who spent the past eight years strategically working around vetoes from former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan — although Moore did not mention the former governor by name.

As he ran through a list of the types of people who serve, including teachers and utility workers and social workers, Moore gave a nod to lawmakers who sacrifice time with their families and their jobs “who choose to step up and step into the arena, despite knowing the ridicule — fair and unfair — that oftentimes comes with it, hoping to leave this state a little better than they found it.”

The State of the State address is rooted in a provision in the Maryland Constitution that says the governor “shall, from time to time, inform the Legislature of the condition of the State and recommend to their consideration such measures as he may judge necessary and expedient.” Typically, the governor gives the address to lawmakers in late January or early February.

His speech was punctuated frequently by applause from lawmakers from both parties, but most enthusiastically by Democratic lawmakers, who make up nearly three-quarters of the General Assembly.

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Gov. Wes Moore pauses for a photo with House Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes, an Eastern Shore Democrat. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

As Moore walked through the chamber to the dais, he was greeted with hugs and handshakes and posed for a couple selfies. House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones leaned into the microphone with a curt “governor,” as a sign for Moore to speed up.

When he stepped to the microphone, Moore said: “I apologize for taking so long, Madam Speaker.” He promised to move more quickly next year.

‘Growing concerns’ from Republicans

The Republican response was delivered by Del. Jason Buckel of Western Maryland, who taped his speech one day earlier.

While the House minority leader presented his party’s legislative priorities on education, crime reduction and boosting the economy, he also spurned a few of Moore’s budgetary decisions.

Buckel said his caucus has “growing concerns” after the first two weeks of Moore’s administration but are willing to “find opportunities for common ground that will benefit all Marylanders.”

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The caucus disagreed with pre-funding Maryland’s sweeping educational reform program while decreasing funding for the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today program, a scholarship program created by Hogan for middle income to low income families seeking private school education.

Buckel called Moore’s decision “an unnecessary cut, and those families and students should not be left behind,” using Moore’s campaign, and now policy, slogan.

“It is not enough for Republican to simply be the party of no,” Buckel said, laying out the caucus’s agenda on education, which included more money for school resource officers and “increasing the focus on the educational achievement of our kids rather than the politics of adults.”

“Public safety is our number one concern,” added Buckel, who is from Allegany County. Republicans will propose legislation to hold repeat offenders of violent crimes accountable, and prosecute juveniles who bring guns to school. Republicans also want to decrease Maryland’s corporate tax rate and continue to decrease the tax burden on retirees and home purchases.

Democrats are ‘very inspired’

Lawmakers from both parties emerged from the House of Delegates chamber with mostly positive reviews of Moore’s speech, although some Republicans expressed caution that the governor’s proposals might be expensive.

Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore said that as the governor was delivering the speech, he immediately realized that the state is in an important moment.

“I love how he brings folks along as a team,” said McCray, a Democrat. “He talked about Marylanders from across the state of Maryland, and let us know that we’re moving collectively, not as individuals.”

McCray said he was “very inspired” about Moore’s agenda.

For freshman Del. Mark Edelson of Baltimore, sitting in his first State of the State speech left him motivated to use his position to serve the people of Maryland and not “get lost in the minutiae and the battles and the back and forth.”

Edelson said Moore’s message of public service resonated with him. As an immigrant from South Africa whose family struggled, Edelson said he took an “unorthodox” path into American politics.

The House of Delegates chamber during a joint assembly for Wednesday's State of the State address. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“It was very surreal when he mentioned the challenges that folks have had to get here,” said Edelson. “And I loved the focus on service.”

Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat, said the speech was “wide-ranging and ambitious.” Clippinger chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

“I’m very interested in the work that he’s going to do to try and get more people on the back end of both the Department of Public Safety and correctional services, parole and probation and also at the department of juvenile services,” Clippinger said, referring to hiring more staff at those agencies to address criminal justice issues, rather than more police officers.

Republicans found some common ground with the governor, agreeing with the focus on helping veterans and working together for the common good.

Sen. Justin Ready, the Senate Republican minority whip, said Moore’s talking points on alleviating child poverty and helping veterans are good goals. But he had hoped to hear more about addressing violence.

“We need swift and certain consequences for people who repeatedly are committing these violent acts,” he said.

Gov. Wes Moore recognizes an educator, Ronnie Beard, one of his guests seated in the gallery during Wednesday's State of the State. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. applaud. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Sen. Stephen Hershey of the Eastern Shore, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, said he wanted to hear more about the governor’s vision for transportation.

And he said Republicans remain concerned about how the state will pay for some of Moore’s ideas. The increase of the minimum wage — and indexing it to inflation — is a particular concern, he said.

“There are a lot of great ideas that he’s talked about and we’ll have to wait and see what the details look like,” Hershey said

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