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Maryland Association of Counties Summer Conference Address

Good morning. Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Barry, thank you for your tremendous leadership as MACo President. 

I also want to thank Michael Sanderson and the entire MACo staff for all of their hard work in organizing another outstanding summer conference.

And to all of Maryland’s county leaders, I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for your service to our state and for your dedication to your communities.

Every single day, you are all working hard to balance your budgets, to run your county governments, and to directly address the concerns and meet the needs of our Maryland citizens.

Five years ago, we promised MACo that our administration would be more accessible and responsive to you and your counties, and we pledged that areas which had been forgotten and neglected would no longer be ignored.

And we have been doing exactly what we said we were going to do.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Winds of Change.”  Working together with all of you over the past five years, we have brought real and lasting change to Maryland.

We have spent five years unshackling the unlimited potential and promise of our great state.

We debated, discussed, and reasoned together, honestly and productively, with integrity and sincere purpose.

Together, we sought out bipartisan, common sense solutions that worked for the people of our state.

Thank you all for being such incredible partners in our efforts to change Maryland for the better.

With your help, we went from losing more than 100,000 jobs to gaining more than 100,000 jobs.

More businesses are now open and more people are working than ever before in the history of our state and we have had the biggest economic turnaround in America.

Recently, we won approval for 149 Opportunity Zones all across Maryland, including at least one in each of our 24 jurisdictions, and we are doing everything in our power to work collaboratively with county and municipal governments and with the private sector to make Maryland’s Opportunity Zones the most competitive ones in America.

We’re providing $17.5 million in housing tax credits and state housing funds specifically for projects in Opportunity Zones.

Through the “neighborhood business works” program, we are providing another $10 million for new and expanding businesses and nonprofit organizations located in Opportunity Zones. 

We launched the Opportunity Zone Information Exchange⁠—a one-stop-shop website, the first in the nation⁠—that already features projects and businesses which represent nearly $12 billion of investment.

Working together, we will revitalize our forgotten and neglected communities, and give those communities and the citizens who live there greater opportunities and more hope for a better future.

Thanks to your help, last week we completed a forward-thinking state development plan called “A Better Maryland” after holding more than 85 meetings to gather feedback, meeting directly with county and local leaders and stakeholders in every single jurisdiction from one end of the state to the other.

As a result, our new, inclusive state development plan better reflects the current needs of our state, improves coordination between state agencies and local governments, supports thoughtful growth and infrastructure planning, stimulates economic development and revitalization, and most importantly, as we promised, no longer will the state usurp your authority.

This plan returns planning and zoning decisions and authority back to the county and local governments where they belong.

Earlier this week, I enacted an executive order to create a task force on renewable energy deployment and siting.

This task force will be charged with working in partnership with all of you, with the counties and local governments, to find ways to incentivize the responsible development of renewable energy projects in Maryland, with a balanced approach that will minimize the impact on agriculturally or ecologically important areas, including productive farms and fields, forest and park lands, shorelines, wetlands or waterways.

Maryland is ranked number one in America for having the fastest internet and we have been working hard to provide high speed internet to every county in the state.

We recently awarded grants for 11 rural broadband projects in five counties across the state and additional grants to six more counties to begin broadband feasibility studies.

Today, I’m announcing that we will provide an additional $10 million this year as the first installment of a five-year $100 million initiative, which will finally provide another 225,000 Marylanders in rural communities across the state with access to reliable and affordable high speed internet services.

In Maryland, we are proud to have some of the best and most highly funded schools in America.

Our administration has provided historically high funding five years in a row, investing a record $32 billion in K-12 education⁠—significantly more funding than the legislature proposed.

More than half of our entire capital budget goes toward education.

The casino lockbox initiative⁠—which we pushed for⁠—was approved by 80% of Maryland voters and will provide an additional $4.4 billion more for county schools.

In January, we will introduce landmark legislation to provide $2 billion in additional, new dedicated funding to assist counties with school construction. This will fulfill nearly every single local construction request in the entire state.

The time has come to pass this critical, much-needed initiative.

I know that county leaders have had meetings over the past few days about the major school funding storm that is gathering on the horizon.

I have heard your serious and valid concerns about the dramatic impact that this could have on all your county budgets.

With little thought, the legislature rushed through the so-called Kirwan plan, which will require billions and billions more in mandated spending increases for county and state taxpayers.

They took this action without any regard to funding formulas and with absolutely no plan whatsoever for how any of your counties or the state taxpayers could possibly be able to pay for any of it.

These well-meaning but half-baked and fiscally irresponsible proposals will cause an $18.7 billion state budget deficit over the next five years, and will force a crushing $6,200 tax hike on the average Maryland family.

The Maryland Department of Budget and Management estimates that paying for these proposals and the budget deficit they create would require a 39% increase in the personal income tax, an 89% increase in the sales tax, or a staggering 535% increase in the property tax.

I know that county leaders are just as concerned as I am and as taxpayers are. So, let me just be crystal clear: not a single one of those things is ever going to happen as long as I’m governor.

The fight against heroin and opioid overdoses has overwhelmed counties and torn apart communities and families throughout our state and across the nation.

Thankfully, for the first time in a decade, the number of fatal opioid overdoses in Maryland declined by 14%.

But we continue to need the help of each and every one of you. Together, we can and we must do more in order to save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.

For five years now, Maryland has been leading the charge when it comes to real bipartisan, common sense solutions and setting an example for the nation on the environment.

We have fully invested in bay restoration efforts four years in a row, funding Program Open Space for the first time in more than a decade and the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund for the first time in state history.

In total, our administration has committed an historic $5 billion toward wide-ranging bay initiatives and now the Chesapeake Bay is cleaner than it has ever been in recorded history.

Five years ago, Maryland had crumbling roads and bridges and some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. We decided to do something about that. So we moved forward on nearly all of your highest priority transportation projects in every single jurisdiction.

Over 800 infrastructure projects totaling $9 billion are currently under construction all across our state.

And, as MACo knows full well, under the previous administration, highway user revenues were cut by 90%.

For five straight years, we have been standing up and fighting hard for you on this issue, and working with MACo, we were pleased to finally pass and sign into law legislation that nearly doubled state funding for local roads and which finally put us on a path to fully restore highway user revenues.

I want to close with an urgent issue that we all continue to be faced with: the out-of-control violence, particularly in our state’s largest city.

People who live in Baltimore don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods and citizens all across the state are outraged by the daily reports of this rampant gang violence.

We launched an aggressive, coordinated surge to back up the beleaguered city police force.

We sent over 500 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers from 26 different agencies into the city and made over 1,900 arrests.

We launched a strike force consisting of more than 200 additional law enforcement personnel from 16 federal and state law enforcement agencies as well as local partners from surrounding jurisdictions.

We have been assisting the city in recruiting and funding, allowing them to put more officers onto the streets.

And nearly all of the initiatives that are currently being debated in other states and in Washington have already been enacted here in Maryland. But none of that has stopped the murders and the violence.

Most people who commit a violent felony in Baltimore City are never convicted, and a staggering 60% of those who actually are convicted of committing a violent crime with a gun do not serve any serious jail time. They are simply released back out to commit violent felonies again and again. 

That is completely unacceptable. This deadly violence must stop.

We’re talking about taking our communities back and saving lives. The time has come for all of us to take a stand together.

I am calling on leaders at every level of government to join our efforts to impose tougher sentences for those who repeatedly commit these violent crimes. 

Enough is enough. Let’s come together and do what it takes to get these violent shooters off our streets once and for all.

Last month, I was elected as the Chairman of the National Governors Association.

It is truly an honor to have this opportunity to lead the nation’s governors and to be able to share examples of what we are accomplishing here in Maryland on transportation, education, economic development, the environment, and more.

I’m proud of the progress that we have made together over the past five years.

We have proven that with a strong partnership between the state government and all of our local leaders working together, we really can solve some of the tough problems and get things done.

Together, over the next three and a half years, we have the incredible opportunity to accomplish even more.

Let’s continue moving our state forward and let’s keep changing Maryland for the better.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God continue to bless the great state of Maryland.