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February 2017:

Elections Have Consequences, Especially Trump’s

February 6, 2017

Posted in: News

Elections have consequences. Many politicians, from President Barack Obama to former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, have said that over the years.

In January, we saw a lot of consequences of the November election. Many state officials and citizens fear there will be more to come.

Maryland’s budgets next year and in the future are endangered by repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and a federal hiring freeze, along with any cuts in non-military spending.

An unintended consequence of President Trump’s election is how the “shock and awe” policy bombs of his first weeks in office have energized Democrats — the left and the center as well — in loud protests that we haven’t seen in decades.

Another consequence of Trump’s actions is that they have given Maryland Democrats a bigger club to try to beat down the popularity of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and his chances for reelection. Challenge Trump on Obamacare repeal, they insist; condemn Trump on the refugee ban, they demand.

Hogan in Hard Spot

Hogan was already in a hard spot as a GOP governor who did not support or vote for Trump. His connection to his buddy Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor who’s now off the Trump team, does him no good. Hogan does have a friendly relationship with Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana governor, but Pence’s role and power are still unclear.

Hogan would like some favors from the Trump administration, like a decision to relocate the FBI headquarters to Greenbelt or funding for the long-needed fixes to the rail tunnel in Baltimore. It is abundantly clear that Donald Trump does not grant favors to those who criticize or oppose him, but he is willing forgive those willing to show him the respect he thinks he deserves. And he thinks he deserves a lot, believe me.

This is why Hogan attended Trump’s inaugural, as did all but two of Maryland’s members of Congress.

Hogan is not likely to cave into Democratic demands that he publicly stand up to Trump. He’s more likely to bow down to the president in private and hope for the best.

Hogan is really no worse off than many Republican and Democrat governors whose budgets will suffer if the expansion of Medicaid health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act is no longer heavily subsidized by the federal government. That was always a hazard under the ACA, which is why some Republican governors never agreed to the Medicaid expansion.

According to legislative analysts, the ACA supports $1.4 billion in services to 312,000 newly eligible individuals. Any substantial cut in the federal subsidy would leave Maryland with a billion-dollar hole to maintain coverage of these folks. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have promised to replace Obamacare with something better and cheaper, but they have not pledged a GOP replacement that would be as generous to the states for Medicaid.

A prolonged federal hiring freeze and cuts in non-military spending would also have an impact on the state budget from the loss of income tax revenues paid by government employees and contractors.

Looming Deficits

Even without cuts by Trump, Maryland is yet again facing long-term structural deficits in which promised spending exceeds expected revenues. Maryland’s legislative leaders are getting pressure to fix their approach to spending, not just from Hogan, but from their own top budget expert, Warren Deschenaux.

In his analysis of the $43.5 billion state budget Hogan sent to the legislature, Deschenaux told legislators, “This is another kick-the-can-down-the-road budget,” putting off hard choices about future spending.

Deschenaux, who’s been analyzing state spending for 18 years, said, “We’ve settled into a pattern that the world of 2008 is going to reappear,” and revenues are going to grow by 5% a year to match projected spending driven by formulas and mandates.

“I think we need to fix the out-years spending pressure,” Deschenaux said.

“It’s not up to the nerds to do this,” he said, referring to him and his staff. “It’s up to the political leadership.”

Political Energy

The political energy stirred up by Trump’s words and actions was apparent, and not just in the protests that filled the streets of Washington the day after his inauguration.

At BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport on Jan. 29, thousands of people filled the international terminal protesting his short-term ban of refugees from seven countries. The same Sunday night, 1,100 people packed the Catholic space at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, in Columbia, to show their support for local legislation making Howard County a sanctuary city that would not go out of its way to enforce federal immigration laws.

Priests, ministers and long-time undocumented residents spoke in favor of the bill, and organized to lobby for its passage. They are not confident of getting the four out of five votes needed to override a promised veto by County Executive Allan Kittleman.

The Democratic sponsors of the bill, County Councilmembers Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa, basked in a standing ovation from the crowd that was as diverse as any to be found in Columbia. There were whites, blacks and browns; Muslim women in hijab and many Latino families — hundreds attend the Catholic parish that holds three masses in Spanish each weekend.

The two other Democratic councilmembers, Mary Kay Sigaty and chair Jon Weinstein, were not present. The Rev. Paige Getty of the Unitarian-Universalist congregation told the crowd they needed the other two to “stand with” Ball and Terrasa.

For Weinstein, who represents the Ellicott City-Elkridge swing district, “We know that, politically, it feels very tricky,” Getty said. Many opponents to the bill testifying at two nights of hearings came from Weinstein’s district.

Kittleman has called the bill “a hollow political statement that provides a false sense of security, compromises our ability to keep our community safe, and could jeopardize federal funding for critical programs and services.” Trump has promised to cut funding for sanctuary cities.

The Rev. Robert Turner of St. John Baptist Church urged those attending to email the council because “they read and count their emails.” Opponents of the bill were ahead in those email counts, he said.

“Regardless of the outcome, we want fair, decent, respectful treatment” for all, said Catholic Bishop Mark Brennan, who spoke and prayed in both English and Spanish.

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