Moore’s first bills focus on reducing poverty, improving access to banking and broadband

Published 2/2/2023 4:06 p.m. EST, Updated 2/2/2023 9:43 p.m. EST

Governor Wes Moore speaks the State of the State in the House Chambers at the Maryland State House on February 1, 2023.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Thursday introduced some of the key policy proposals that he hopes lawmakers will approve, ranging from creating a promised community service program for young people to improving tax breaks for low-income workers and military veterans.

Nine of Moore’s proposals were introduced in the House of Delegates on Thursday; they’ve yet to be introduced in the state Senate. It’s not clear if these are all of the governor’s proposals, as he has yet to publicly unveil his full wish list.

“Governor Wes Moore is going straight to the issues that matter most to Marylanders — fighting for better wages, helping working families, expanding broadband access, taking care of our veterans, and bolstering our economy,” Moore spokesman Carter Elliott IV said in a statement response to questions from The Baltimore Banner.

“This set of bills sends a strong message to Maryland — Governor Wes Moore is following through with his promise to create a Maryland where no one is left behind. The Governor knows service is what will save us, and these bills show he’s fully committed to serving all Marylanders,” the statement continued.

The full text of the bills was not yet posted on the General Assembly’s website and were not provided by the governor’s office, but here’s what we know about the governor’s proposals based on the bill summaries.

Serving Every Region Through Vocational Exploration Act: This would create the governor’s much-discussed “service year option program,” which would pay young people to work in service to the community.

The pay would be $15 per hour for at least 30 hours per week. It appears participants also may be eligible for a $3,000 stipend after completing the program.

Family Prosperity Act: This bill would make a permanent change to the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low-wage workers lower their tax burden, often resulting in a large tax refund from both the state and federal government. In 2021, Maryland made its portion of the credit more generous temporarily; this proposal would make that enhanced credit permanent.

Moore’s proposal also would expand eligibility for the Child Tax Credit so that more families would qualify.

The cost to the state for both measures would be $171 million, according to Moore’s proposed budget.

Access to Banking Act: This would establish a Community Investment Venture Fund for “developing opportunities” for banks to better serve low-income and moderate-income neighborhoods. It appears the bill also will offer incentives to banks that open new branches, or maintain existing ones, in certain neighborhoods.

Fair Wage Act: This bill would increase the state’s minimum wage, although the bill summary doesn’t indicate by how much. Moore made a campaign pledge to accelerate the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour this year; state law currently requires large businesses to reach $15 on Jan. 1, 2025, and small businesses to pay that wage by Jan. 1, 2026.

It’s unclear whether Moore’s proposal would affect wages of tipped workers such as servers and bartenders, who are allowed to make a lower base hourly wage.

Clean Transportation and Energy Act: This would expend an electric vehicle recharging program and change how clean energy grants and rebates are handled, but further details are unclear.

Broadband Expansion Act: This bill would offer tax incentives related to the broadband internet industry.

Innovation Economy Infrastructure Act: This would create a grant program in the Department of Commerce for “infrastructure projects in eligible technology sectors.” Moore’s budget proposal includes $10 million for the program.

Health Care for Heroes Act: This bill, which the governor discussed with veterans last week, would reimburse Maryland National Guard members for their health insurance premiums.

Keep Our Heroes Home Act: This measure also was previously unveiled by the governor and would increase the tax break that Marylanders get on military retirement income, as an incentive for them to continue living in state. For 2023, the first $25,000 of military retirement income would be exempt from taxes and for 2024, that would increase to the first $40,000 of income.

Not included in the bills introduced Thursday was a measure to improve recruitment and retention for public school teachers that Moore has discussed broadly. His budget proposal includes $15 million for a Maryland Educator Shortage Act.

More from The Banner