Maryland Gov. Wes Moore announced an ambitious plan to reshape state government and better measure the progress toward serving residents during his second State of the State address in Annapolis Wednesday.

The Democratic governor said he’ll issue a “state plan” that will lay out performance goals for state government and how they will be tracked. He plans to hold a meeting with tens of thousands of state workers on Thursday to explain it, and eventually there will be an online dashboard for the public to view progress.

“Our state plan is about more than big aspirational targets. We’ve laid out specific, actionable, realistic and measurable goals,” Moore said. He said it’s the first such plan for state government in at least a decade.

He said the goals were inspired by his travels throughout Maryland over the past year, from meeting with farmers to talking with students. He did not, however, offer details of the goals and how they’ll be measured.

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Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said in an interview that she’ll join the Thursday call with over 40,000 state employees to discuss the plan, which she said will serve as “a blueprint for us in the administration and how we’re going to govern.”

The largest union for state workers wasn’t consulted or given a heads-up about the details of the plan and how it will affect employees.

“I don’t have any information on it yet,” Patrick Moran, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said after the speech. “I am interested in an invitation to the meeting.”

Gov. Wes Moore, flanked by Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, delivers his second State of the State address in the Maryland State House on February 7, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Outlining a vision

Moore also spent time in his speech promoting the bills that he’s sent to lawmakers and promoting broad goals — including eliminating the racial wealth gap.

Moore’s remarks were frequently punctuated with applause from Democratic and Republican lawmakers who crowded into the House of Delegates chamber to hear from their governor.

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On public safety, he’s asking lawmakers to fund a new Center for Firearm Violence Prevention and Intervention and to improve recruitment of police officers. When he declared that “hate has no home” in Maryland, lawmakers rose in a standing ovation.

He also spoke about his package of bills intended to address a lack of affordable housing in the state by incentivizing housing construction and protecting renters.

“Guys: This is about lives and livelihoods. We need to make it easier for people to live here, to stay here and to retire here,” the governor said.

Moore also touted money in his budget to support child care assistance, and efforts to “cut red tape” for businesses, improve public schools and expand apprenticeships. He referenced his ENOUGH Act, which will send $15 million per year to boost services in neighborhoods with high rates of child poverty.

Throughout the speech, Moore repeatedly referenced “partnership” — a word that appeared 28 times in his prepared remarks.

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“I’m proud of what we’re doing. But I’m most proud of how we’re doing it. The executive and the legislature are working together again, and it feels good,” he said.

And he said that as governor, he won’t “pick fights with legislators in the media” as other executives had.

He quoted from the Bible, a famous verse from Paul writing to the Corinthians about how love is patient and kind.

“I think about partnership the exact same way,” Moore said. “Partnership doesn’t keep score. Partnership has no ego. And partnership isn’t partisan.”

He noted bipartisan work on issues such as improving care at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in Southern Maryland and responding to a major storm in Carroll County.

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As is common, Moore declared early in the speech that “the state of our state is strong.” And he closed with his signature line: “Let’s leave no one behind.”

Gov. Wes Moore holds House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’ hand as he acknowledges her long career in public service during his second State of the State address in the Maryland State House on February 7, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Progress on last year’s child poverty promise

In his first State of the State speech last year, Moore announced an “audacious goal” of ending child poverty in the state.

In his speech, Moore noted that his “frontal assault on child poverty” will help lift 160,000 children to “the next rung on the economic ladder.”

About 12% of Maryland’s children live in poverty, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Maryland Center on Economic Policy.

Following last year’s pledge to end child poverty, the governor worked with lawmakers on a series of changes aimed to help low-wage workers that would, in turn, help children: accelerating a planned increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour, turning a temporary expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit into a permanent one, and sweetening the Child Tax Credit.

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Moore has more poverty-fighting proposals on the way, though there are no estimates yet for how many children and families would benefit if they’re enacted.

Chief among them is the ENOUGH Act. Moore also has legislation aimed at protecting the rights of renters and adding more affordable housing in the state, which could help families with children secure quality places to live.

And Moore put more money in his proposed budget for scholarships for child care, an expensive burden for working parents, with the goal of helping 45,000 children. But the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland has objected to a provision that would require parents to pay more money out-of-pocket in order to access the scholarship funds.

Gov. Wes Moore greets lawmakers ahead of his second State of the State address in the Maryland State House on February 7, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Democratic praise

Moore’s speech was well-received by Democratic lawmakers, who were more enthusiastic in their applause for the governor’s remarks.

Del. David Moon, the Democratic majority leader from Montgomery County, said he liked what Moore had to say about growing the state’s economy. With the state facing a long-term projected budget shortfall, adding more residents and expanding the tax base could help the state raise the needed money.

Addressing the cost of housing and child care will be key to that vision, Moon said. “Frankly, our sort of stagnant population growth, I think, needs a kick in the pants to try and get more taxpayers moving into the state to help with our long-term budget woes,” Moon said.

Sen. Alonzo T. Washington, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, thought it was “fantastic” that Moore laid out a goal of closing the racial wealth gap.

“Our governor should be focused on that, because that’s been a historic issue that the Black Caucus has always been working on since its inception,” Washington said. “And so for the governor to take the mantle and lead on this issue is extremely encouraging.”

Montgomery County’s Del. Gabriel Acevero, one of the most progressive members of the House, said he’s looking forward to hearing Moore’s plan on the racial wealth gap. He’s hopeful that might include paying reparations to counteract the generations-long harmful effects of slavery.

“There’s a lot to closing the racial wealth gap, but it is absolutely inspiring to see a governor that’s willing to name that and publicly commit to closing it,” he said.

Former Gov. Parris Glendening knows what it’s like to give a State of the State speech, having given eight himself during his two terms.

He said Moore’s speech “reached the right mixture of having a real vision and expressing that vision in a way that means something to people and linking it to actual programs.”

More than anything else, governments must address issues of equity inclusion and fairness, and Moore’s address reflected a desire to do so, said Glendening, a Democrat.

”If you go out in the community at all, what people are most interested in is, is anyone listening? Is anyone actually hearing us?” Glendening said. “And I believe that Wes Moore is.”

Gov. Wes Moore, center, shakes hands with Senate President Bill Ferguson as he delivers his second State of the State address in the Maryland State House on February 7, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Republican skepticism

In a prerecorded response on behalf of Republican lawmakers, Sen. Stephen Hershey said Moore needs “much more than grand declarations” to achieve his vision of success for all Marylanders. And while Republicans want to work with the Democratic governor, they also won’t compromise their beliefs.

“As we embark on this journey of collaboration, it is also our duty to raise concerns whenever we perceive that the actions taken may not be in the best interest of our constituents,” Hershey said in his remarks, which aired on Maryland Public Television after the governor’s speech.

Hershey, who represents the Eastern Shore, said Moore’s plans fall short on addressing violent crime by not pushing for “swift and certain consequences for violent criminals.” He also took a swipe at Democratic lawmakers’ “undisciplined spending” — including on an ambitious public education plan — that he says has contributed to a projected deficit, and took a dim view of proposed tax hikes on corporations and wealthy Marylanders.

Hershey promoted Republican proposals, from tougher sentences to helping students pay private school tuition, saying his party’s ideas are “grounded in practical, commonsense approaches” to help Marylanders.

Sen. Justin Ready of Carroll County, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said in an interview that he appreciated Moore’s remarks on the need to improve public safety, even though they largely would disagree on the approaches.

“We want to say: ‘That’s great. We want to work with you where we can agree. We may want to argue about some things we don’t agree with,’” Ready said. “But hey, we’re still early in the session, relatively. We really need to make progress this year.”

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