Delegate Simonaire Delivers Lincoln Day Address

On Monday, February 13th, Delegate Meagan Simonaire delivered the Lincoln Day Address to the Maryland House of Delegates. The following are her prepared remarks.


Delegate Simonaire delivering the 2017 Lincoln Day Address

Tonight we honor and remember one of the greatest leaders of our nation, Abraham Lincoln. Much has been said about our 16th president and his legacy has inspired many throughout the past 152 years.

While preparing my thoughts for this evening, I came across numerous insights on who Lincoln was and what he has meant, and tonight I’d like to share a few of those with you.

In 1922, sociologist, writer, and civil rights activist W. E. B. DuBois stated, “Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the greatest figure of the nineteenth century. Certainly…[he] is to me the most human and lovable. And I love him not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed.”

President Lincoln

President Lincoln

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1940 “I do not know which party Lincoln would belong to if he were alive…His sympathies and his motives of championship of humanity itself have made him for all centuries to come the legitimate property of all parties—of every man and woman and child in every part of our land.”

In 2005, then-Senator Barack Obama observed that “when the time came to confront the greatest moral challenge this nation has ever faced, this all too human man did not pass the challenge on to future generations…In the midst of slavery’s dark storm and the complexities of governing a house divided, he somehow kept his moral compass pointed firm and true.”

Honesty. Integrity. Humility. These are the hallmarks of the imperfect, but principled leader who had such a profound impact on the course of our nation’s history.

Lincoln’s dedication to liberty and equality particularly resonates with me, as one of the issues near to my heart is the modern day slavery known as human trafficking. I first became aware of human trafficking when I was around sixteen; two women from the organization Project Rescue gave a presentation on the growing prevalence of human trafficking, one of the largest illegal trades in the world today. I couldn’t believe that something so horrific was happening, not only in far-away countries, but here, in my city and my neighborhoods.

Their presentation spurred my involvement in several outreaches and conferences over the following years, oriented towards combating human trafficking. It also played a large part in my decision to run for office, in hopes that I would be able in some way to make an impact, and help give a voice to those who have had their most basic human rights brutally violated.

Another thing that stood out to me as I read more about Lincoln’s life was his ability to balance his pragmatism with his principles.

President Lincoln and his cabinet.

President Lincoln and his cabinet.

Lincoln was deeply opposed to slavery from a moral standpoint, and he held to that conviction. However, he also recognized and acknowledged the complexities involved and sought to address them. He was said to have possessed an “uncanny ability to empathize with and think about other people’s point of view,”  and recognized the value and importance of understanding the other side, while not compromising his beliefs.

I found Lincoln’s example a timely reminder and challenge to engage and build meaningful relationships with those whose views may differ from mine.

While much of the information I found written about President Lincoln spoke of his

character and contributions to the country, I also came across a few things about him that I like to call little treasures. They helped me remember that in the midst of his greatness and accomplishments, he was still human and shared similarities with all of us. One of those little treasures was the following:

Fido, one of the Lincoln family dogs

Fido, one of the Lincoln family dogs

“his little dog Jip…was never absent from the Presidential lunch. He was always in Mr. Lincoln’s lap to claim his portion first, and was caressed and petted by him through the whole meal.”

As I was reading that quote, I happened to be on a plane to Puerto Rico and quickly typed it on my laptop and smiled. The man sitting next to me asked if I was a student or a professor, as I had to be one or the other typing so fast. I explained to him that I was adding some fun details to my Lincoln Day speech that I had prepared for the Maryland General Assembly.

Although he and his wife lived in Ohio and are from Puerto Rico, he was actually very familiar with Maryland. He is a priest and his students were at St. Mary’s. He then shared how he loved President Lincoln and had just finished reading a book about him. He told me so many fascinating details about the President’s life, and when I asked what his favorite thing about him was, his response left me smiling from ear to ear.

He told me that his favorite thing about Lincoln was that he was President for all humankind and was even known for respecting those who didn’t agree with him. I had to smile, because that was so close to my favorite quote that I had already typed and was actually said by a Reverend. The Reverend stated: “let us resolve to carry forward the policy which he so nobly began. Let us do right to all men.”

While there are many things in the past that are so inspiring to reflect on, it was beautiful to see how even sitting on a plane on the way to Puerto Rico, I could have such a wonderful conversation with a priest and his wife because of President Lincoln. His legacy still brings people together and inspires them in everyday life.

In closing, I am truly honored to be a part of this legislature, as we work together to carry on the legacy of Lincoln and, in his words, maintain “that form and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—and to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”

Thank you.

House Republicans Reveal Impact of Transportation Proposal

Legislation Eliminates County Input in Transportation Projects
Jeopardizes Future Projects Across the State

House Republicans today  Press Conferencerevealed the impact of a Democratic proposal that would completely change the way the state funds transportation projects.

“House Bill 1013 upends a system that has worked for decades,” said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga. “It discards the county’s input on their transportation priorities and instead creates a scoring system for transportation projects that weighs heavily in favor of mass transit in urban areas.”

Maryland already has a system in place to select transportation projects for the Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP). Every year, the Secretary of Transportation tours the state, holding public hearings and gathering input from citizens and elected officials. Each county sends a list of their transportation priorities and the projects are selected based on the priorities of the counties and the funding available.

Governor Hogan has invested an unprecedented $2 billion across the state. Dollars to fix every single structurally deficient bridge and move Maryland forward on the top-priority road projects in every jurisdiction of the state. House Bill 1013 creates a scoring system where projects are awarded points based on various criteria. The scoring is weighed heavily in favor of urban areas and mass transit.

Flanagan Presser“This bill scores projects in different parts of the state in exactly the same way,” said Delegate Bob Flanagan, who served as the Secretary of Transportation from 2003-2007. “This fails to recognize that different parts of the state have different needs. For example, economic development might be more important in some parts of the state while congestion relief is more important in another. This weighting system gives no consideration for the various needs of the state.”



“This legislation has far and long-reaching consequences for the future of Maryland’s Ghrist Press Conferencetransportation infrastructure,” said Delegate Jeff Ghrist. “Had this bill been enacted in 2015, Montgomery County would have received 96% of the transportation funding. Projects that would make our roads safer, such as the widening of the notoriously dangerous MD 404 on the Eastern Shore would not have received funding if this bill had passed last year. Transportation taxes are paid by all of Marylanders, and the funding should benefit the entire state, not just one or two jurisdictions.”


Governor Hogan's 2016 Transportation Plan“Governor Hogan’s actions have been immensely popular with the citizens of Maryland, transcending party lines,” said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke. “It is unfortunate that some Democratic leaders are again playing politics with something as serious as roads and bridges.  The bill seems to be aimed at limiting the power of the Executive branch for political reasons but in doing so this legislation if enacted would dangerously affect the safety of Marylanders who drive on our roads and travel across our bridges.  It is a wrong-minded and unproductive pattern that we’ve seen too frequently this session.”

Delegate Steve Arentz Delivers Lincoln Day Address

On Monday, February 15, Delegate Steve Arentz delivered the annual Lincoln Day Address to the Maryland House of Delegates. The text of his address, as prepared, is below.


Delegate Steve Arentz

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.  It is my pleasure to give the Lincoln Day speech in the General Assembly.  Abraham Lincoln is one of the most highly regarded presidents in our history and today we celebrate him.

I have always admired our 16th president and his accomplishments – from his storied rise in politics, to his historic deeds as president in a time of great heartache for our young country. Recently, I read the account of his death, The Killing of Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly and was given more insight into the man that we all know as Honest Abe.  He knew of the dangers he faced as president. He knew of the rumors of assassination and still continued to do the things he knew needed to be done despite the great risk that ultimately resulted in his death at the hands of a group that so feared him.
The celebration of this day would not be complete without the reciting of the Gettysburg Address delivered by Lincoln on November 19, 1863.

To preface, it is important to understand Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was never intended to be the headline. The keynote speaker of the day, State Representative Edward Everett, spoke for nearly two hours. Lincoln followed Everett and was just to speak briefly about the tragic loss of life at Gettysburg, over 8,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. However two minutes and 272 words later Lincoln transcended Everett. In that short time Lincoln not only paid tribute to those lives lost; he reaffirmed some of America’s most sacred principles. He truly was a master Orator. The irony of that day though is that Lincoln himself didn’t even realize the magnitude of his words – believing that they would be forgotten in lieu of the sacrifices made on the Gettysburg battlefield.  And while he was correct that the Gettysburg battlefield would never be forgotten, nor would the lives that were sacrificed by both the Union and the South, he misunderstood how his words would forever form one of the most memorable and important speeches of our great nation. So here goes:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Earlier that year on January 1, 1863 he penned his final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. With it, Abraham Lincoln was credited with freeing the slaves. He was the Great Emancipator. That he did so is amazing, but how he did it, is just as significant.

There is much we all can learn from his style and demeanor. When you read aboutLincoln Lincoln what is mostly conveyed is his rather simple upbringing and his continued drive for success.  He was not a man that relied on others being less capable than him, but one that needed to be as good as he could be. He once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

But maybe better evidence of his drive for success can be found in Lincoln’s little-known wrestling career. Historians have only found one recorded loss by Lincoln in 12 years. Isn’t it funny how someone with such skill in the ring wrestled with some of the nation’s most important issues?

I can only imagine being alive his time and surrounded by such a divisive decision that had to be made.  I watch us in this body wrestle with whether it is ok to smoke pot in public or not, much less having to manage a country divided so deeply on a single issue.

I would like to hope that there is a Lincoln amongst us. A good leader who talks little, listens to people and can be guided by them without being threatened.  His process was well orchestrated. He would listen; if it made sense he would let them proceed.

If he was uncomfortable with what was being suggested he would focus, direct, or point people to what he viewed as the proper path rather than ordering.  He was a master at directing others by implying, hinting, or suggesting.

Even Lincoln’s critics couldn’t help but acknowledge and compliment his leadership style. Newspaperman Horace Greeley who was often at odds with the president and his administration, once wrote “He was not a born king of men but a child of the common people, who made himself a great persuader, therefore a leader, by dint of firm resolve, patient effort, and dogged perseverance.  He slowly won his way to eminence and fame by doing the work that lay next to him – doing it with all his growing might – doing it as well as he could, and learning by his failure, when failure was encountered, how to do it better. He was open to all impressions and influences, and gladly profited by the teachings of events and circumstances, no matter how adverse or unwelcome. There was probably no year of his life when he was not a wiser, cooler, and a better man than he had been the year preceding. And while Greeley’s words alone do Lincoln’s leadership style justice, there are many other stories that help us understand how great Abraham Lincoln was.

Lincoln with troopsLincoln was a war-time president that knew you needed to understand what your people were going through to continually ask them to do their jobs.  He spent much of his time among his troops.  He was constantly informed with what was going on in the war.  One story references General John C. Fremont. In relieving him of duty, Lincoln wrote to his successor General David Hunter, “General Fremont is losing the confidence of men near him, whose support any man in his position must have to be successful.” Lincoln continued, “His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.” Lincoln’s letter not only alerted General Hunter as to why he relieved Fremont, it offered advice to Hunter on how Lincoln expected the job to be handled.

Lincoln could not sit by and let people bring the news to him, he would discover first-hand what was going on around him.  Lincoln realized that people were a major source of information and he intended to stay close to that information. His hands-on approach allowed for him to act swiftly and decisively, winning battles and saving lives. His open door policy as president constituted an exemplary model for effective leadership.  People work harder, smarter, and are more loyal if they are involved.

Lincoln would visit his Secretary of War nearly every day and even spent nights at the telegraph office awaiting news of the war.  He genuinely cared what people thought, continually seeking them out for their opinion. He was good-tempered always with a kind word or a good story.  People liked him, he was approachable and sincere.  He understood that “people like a compliment.” Often during the war he would ride his horse along the lines to visit his Generals and troops, always with a kind word and frequently telling them of his vision for America. Lincoln truly believed in preaching and reaffirming his vision. This was important not only for him but for a country mired in turmoil and uncertainty.

However, Lincoln didn’t just talk to people, he had an innate ability to actually understand them as well. He found space that he could work with and opened the door.

From left: Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln, Gideon Welles, Caleb B. Smith, William H. Seward, Montgomery Blair, and Edward Bates.

From left: Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln, Gideon Welles, Caleb B. Smith, William H. Seward, Montgomery Blair, and Edward Bates.

Prior to being elected president, He met Edwin Stanton, his would-be Secretary of War, while working on a legal case.  Stanton insulted the then attorney by commenting “he looked like a giraffe.” Later after Lincoln was elected President, Stanton commented that, “the President had no token of any intelligent understanding”.  Despite all of this, Lincoln still appointed him his Secretary of War. Stanton accepted. He enthusiastically and quickly proved Lincoln correct in his selection.  As time passed Stanton found that under a somewhat surly exterior existed an honest, devoted, and thoroughly capable administrator.  Lincoln’s trust in Stanton became a constant.  After Lincoln’s death Stanton muttered “Now he belongs to the Ages.” For more than 10 days after Lincoln’s death Stanton went to Lincoln’s son Robert’s room to talk and spent the first few minutes weeping and not saying a word.  He truly grew to love and respect his President.

Lincoln had a similar experience with his Secretary of State, William H. Seward.  Prior to the inauguration Seward resigned. Lincoln, appealing to Seward’s patriotic duty, convinced him to stay. He later found the President to be firm, dedicated, and resourceful with a distinct mind of his own.

Early on Seward had sent out memos outlining a policy towards the South.  On two occasions he suggested the President start a war with England, first to unite the North and South and then after the British vessel Trent was captured with two Confederate commissioners on board. Lincoln held firm, saying that, “If such policies were to be instituted, I must do it.” And followed the Trent example with a simple and firm statement of “One war at a time”.

Lincoln Memorial

Before I finish I would like to recite the words inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial. “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” Those words could not be more fitting. It is truly a tragedy that a man of such leadership left our nation so soon. However, we can all take solace in the fact that his legacy still lives on over 150 years later. It must, if that government, OUR government of the people, by the people, and for the people will never perish from the earth.

Thank you.

Remembering Frederick Douglass

Today we pay tribute to Frederick Douglass, a giant in the fight for racial equality.

Douglass was born a slave in Maryland Frederick Douglassand escaped to freedom at the age of 20. Once free, he began his work to assure that all men could live freely.  He became an activist and political thinker, helping to shape the character of our nation.

Douglass used his newspaper, The North Star, speeches and political involvement to advocate for freedom for slaves and equality of the races.  His autobiography is a textbook on the potential of education to improve and change lives for the better.  To this day, young Americans are inspired by the tale of how he taught himself to read while a slave in Baltimore.

We celebrate the birth of Frederick Douglass today with thanks for his intellect, eloquence and amazing efforts against all odds. As he said, “The Constitution, as well as the Declaration of Independence, give us a platform broad enough, and strong enough, to support the most comprehensive plans for the freedom and elevation of all the people of this county, without regard to color, class, or clime.”

$480 Million in Tax Relief

image 5We are extremely excited about Governor Hogan’s announcement of over 480 million dollars in tax relief measures!

The Governor has carefully designed these measures to help small businesses, manufacturers, retirees, and working families–four groups that especially need and deserve relief after suffering through years of harmful tax hikes.

Hogan Tax Cut Slides

Governor Hogan is committed to rolling back tax and fee increases across the State of Maryland. Our Caucus looks forward to working with him to achieve these goals.

House Republican Caucus Unanimously Re-Elects Kipke and Szeliga

House Republicans today unanimously re-elected Delegate Nic Kipke and Delegate Kathy Szeliga to serve as House Minority Leader and House Minority Whip. Delegates Kipke and Nic and KathySzeliga have served in these leadership rolls since 2013.

“It is a privilege to serve as Minority Leader and I am appreciative to have the continued support of my colleagues,” said Kipke. “We have a talented group of leaders all working to support Governor Hogan’s common-sense agenda so that hard working Marylanders can be more prosperous. These are very exciting times for those of us who care about our state.”

“This year we arrive in Annapolis ready to build upon the multitude of successes the Hogan-Rutherford Administration has achieved,” said Delegate Kathy Szeliga. “While much has been accomplished to date, there is still much work to do as we continue to change Maryland.”


Governor Hogan’s State of the State Address “A New Direction for Maryland”


Speaker Busch, President Miller, members of the General Assembly, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is an honor, and I am truly humbled, for the opportunity to appear before this 435th General Assembly – as Maryland’s new governor – to report on the state of our state.

Marylanders are among the nation’s hardest working and most educated people. We have universities and schools that are among the best in the nation.

No state can match the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay, our beaches and farms, or the mountains of Western Maryland, the Port of Baltimore, or the historic charm of every corner of our state.

But while our assets are many, and our people are strong and hopeful, their state is simply not as strong as it could be – or as it should be.

We have a lot to do, to get Maryland back on track and working again.

The challenges we face are great.

High taxes, over-regulation, and an anti-business attitude are clearly the cause of our economic problems. Our economy is floundering, and too many Marylanders have been struggling, just to get by.

40 consecutive tax hikes have taken an additional $10 billion out of the pockets of struggling Maryland families and small businesses. We’ve lost more than 8,000 businesses, and Maryland’s unemployment nearly doubled.

We’re number three in the nation in foreclosures, and dead last in manufacturing. We’ve had the largest mass exodus of taxpayers fleeing our state – of any state in our region, and one of the worst in the nation.

And, while most states around the country have turned the corner – sadly, Maryland continues to languish behind. The federal government ranked our state’s economy 49th out of 50 states.

That is simply unacceptable.

According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly half of all Marylanders would leave the state if they could. As a lifelong Marylander who loves this state – that just breaks my heart.

We fail all Marylanders if we simply accept these dismal facts as the status quo.

Well – I refuse to accept the status quo, because the people of Maryland deserve better.

Over the past few years, as I traveled across the state, I listened to the concerns of Marylanders from all walks of life. The common theme I kept hearing was frustration. People everywhere feel a real disconnect between Annapolis and the rest of Maryland. They feel that we are way off track, heading in the wrong direction, and that change is desperately needed in Annapolis.

The problems we face aren’t Democratic problems, or Republican problems. These are Maryland’s problems.

And they will require common sense, Maryland solutions. With the will of the people behind us, and with all of us working together, we can put Maryland back on track.

And we will.

Today, Marylanders look to us for leadership. They look to us to put Maryland on a new path, toward opportunity and prosperity for all our citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for us to listen to Maryland’s hard working taxpayers and our job creators.

The people of Maryland simply cannot afford for us to continue on the same path of more spending, more borrowing, more taxes, and politics as usual.

It is time for a new direction for Maryland.

Our administration will chart a new course; one guided by simple, common sense principles. Our focus will be on jobs, struggling Maryland families, and restoring our economy.

And every decision I make as governor will be put to a simple test.

Will this law or action make it easier for families and small businesses to stay in Maryland?

And – will it make more families and small businesses want to come to Maryland?

Our administration will work with all of you to enact the necessary budgets, tax reductions, regulatory reforms, and legislation that is necessary, to ensure that we turn our economy around.

Just 24 hours after being sworn into office, I proposed a budget for Fiscal Year 2016 that fairly and responsibly controls spending.

When my team began the budgeting process, we encountered a baseline budget of $17 billion in expenses and projected revenue of only $16.3 billion. The state was poised to somehow spend $700 million that we simply did not have.

Mandatory payments on state debt had increased by 96 percent just this year. We face an $18.7 billion unfunded pension liability.

Faced with this troubling reality, we revised that script – delivering a fiscally responsible budget that only expends what we take in. This is just common sense. And will come as no surprise to anyone that manages a family’s finances, or runs a small business.

Our team created a structurally balanced budget for the first time in nearly a decade. This budget sends a clear and important message that the days of deficit spending in Maryland are over.

We had to make some very tough decisions in just the first few days of our administration in order to get this state budget under control. But our budget puts Maryland on sound financial footing, without raising taxes or fees, without eliminating agencies, departments, or services, without imposing furloughs and without laying off a single state employee.

Our new budget also funds our priorities, including providing record investment in K-12 education and increased investment in higher education.

This proposed FY2016 budget is just a start. We will have much more to do in the days and months ahead to correct our state’s fiscal course. I am eager to work cooperatively with the General Assembly to meet these challenges head on.

Before I became governor, increases in spending were promised that simply could not be kept. If ever Maryland needed a dose of honesty, it’s now.

The debates that take place in this chamber in the weeks ahead cannot ignore the certainty of our current fiscal situation. We will make every effort to be fair, judicious and thoughtful, and my administration will work hard to preserve jobs and to fund priorities.

Budget choices are never easy, and you may have different ideas and solutions. And we look forward to hearing them, and to working together with you to find common ground.

As long as those solutions don’t include increasing taxes, spending more than we take in, or going further into debt.

And remember, every penny that is added to one program, must be taken from another.

Failing to spend the taxpayer’s money in a responsible way could eventually jeopardize our ability to adequately fund education, transportation, environmental programs, and provide support to the vulnerable and those most in need.

We simply cannot let that happen.

So, how do we begin to change direction, and to improve the state that we all love?

It won’t happen overnight, and there will be times and issues that will test us all, but there are a number of initial actions that I believe we must begin working on immediately.

  1. Making Maryland More Competitive

Maryland’s anti-business attitude, combined with our onerous tax and regulatory policies have rendered our state unable to compete with any of the states in our region. It’s the reason that businesses, jobs and taxpayers have been fleeing our state at an alarming rate.

It’s at the heart of the fiscal and economic issues we are currently dealing with, and it is something we must find solutions to.

A year ago, I held my second annual Change Maryland Business Summit on Improving Maryland’s Economic Competitiveness.

We became the leading voice on these issues – it’s the reason I have the honor of being your governor, and it will be the primary focus of our administration.

I want to commend Senate President Miller and Speaker Busch for recognizing the need to make Maryland more economically competitive.

A year ago, at their urging, this legislature created the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission, also known as the Augustine Commission, to make recommendations to make Maryland competitive. It was a great first step, and we are anxiously awaiting the recommendations of this commission.

But, I am confident that we will find many areas of agreement to make Maryland a more business friendly and more competitive state, so that we can create more jobs and more opportunities for our citizens.

  1. Making State Government More Efficient And More Responsive

I’m proud of the experienced, diverse and bipartisan Cabinet that we have assembled to take over the reigns of state government.

Many of them bring fresh, innovative ideas and valuable real world, private-sector management expertise to their agencies. Their primary mission will be to find ways to restructure their agencies and to make state government more efficient, and more cost effective.

But, we also want to change the culture of state government.

The voters have given us an opportunity to build a government that works for the people – and not the other way around.

Comptroller Franchot noted at his swearing-in last week that we must reinstate old-fashioned customer service to every aspect of government.

I completely agree – and together we will.

  1. Repealing The Rain Tax

Dealing with the problem of storm water management and working to restore our most treasured asset, the Chesapeake Bay, is a goal we all strongly agree on.

But in my humble opinion, passing a state law that forced certain counties to raise taxes on their citizens – against their will – may not have been the best way to address the issue.

If there was one message that Marylanders have made perfectly clear it was that taxing struggling and already overtaxed Marylanders for the rain that falls on the roof of their homes was a mistake that needs to be corrected.

This week, our administration will submit legislation to repeal the rain tax.

  1. Tax Relief For Retirees

Nearly every day I hear from folks who say that they love the state of Maryland, that they have spent their entire lives here, and that they don’t want to leave their kids and grandkids. But, that they simply cannot afford to stay here on a fixed income.

We are losing many of our best and brightest citizens to other states.

Eventually, once we solve our current budget crisis, and turn our economy around, I want to reach the point where we are able to do away with income taxes on all retirement income, just as many other states have done.

This week, we will start heading toward that goal by submitting legislation that repeals income taxes on pensions for retired military, police, fire, and first responders.

These brave men and women have put their lives on the line for us – they deserve it – and they have earned these tax breaks.

  1. Tax Relief For Small businesses

I have spent most of my life in the private sector, running a small business in a state that, at times, seemed openly hostile to people like me.

There is much more for us to do, but as a first step, I’m proposing cutting personal property taxes for small businesses.

This burdensome tax and bureaucratic paperwork discourages the creation of new business, and drives small businesses and jobs elsewhere.

This legislation would create a tax exemption on the first $10,000 in personal property, entirely eliminating this tax for more than 70,000 small business owners — or one-half of all Maryland’s businesses.

  1. Repealing Automatic Gas Tax Increases

After syphoning a billion dollars from the Transportation Trust Fund, a decision was made to enact the largest gas tax increase in state history. This legislation also included language that would automatically increase taxes every single year without it ever having a coming up for a vote.

Marylanders deserve the transparency to know how their elected leaders vote every time the state takes a bigger share of their hard-earned dollars. This is a regressive tax that hurts struggling Maryland families and our most vulnerable, and which adds to the cost of almost everything.

These automatic tax increases should be repealed, and we will submit legislation to do so.

  1. Improving Transportation

Over the last several years, monies for local road improvements have been slashed by up to 96 percent.

Our administration is committed to restoring the money that was taken from the transportation trust fund, and to making sure that it never happens again.

Today I am pleased to announce a supplemental to our FY2016 budget that will increase Highway User Revenues by $25 million and give counties and municipalities the most money for road improvements that they have received since FY 2009.

Further, we are committed to increasing the local share of Highway User Revenues from 10% today to its original high point of 30% over the next 8 years.

This initial tax relief package is just a starting point in the process of rebuilding our state’s economy, and of course tax relief is only part of the solution. We have other important initiatives as well.

  1. Improving Education For All Maryland children

Education is our top priority.

In our proposed budget, we spend more money on education than ever before. We fund K-12 education at record levels and have committed over $290 million to school construction.

And this is the first time in history that any administration has provided additional supplemental funding for education through GCEI in their first year.

We have some great schools here in Maryland, but the gap between the best and the worst schools is dramatic.

I believe that every child in Maryland deserves a world-class education, regardless of what neighborhood they grow up in. We must fix our under-performing schools while also giving parents and children realistic and better alternatives.

So, let’s expand families choices. Let’s encourage more public charter schools to open and operate in Maryland.

This month, our administration will submit legislation to strengthen Maryland’s charter school law. This legislation will expand choices for families and make it easier for more public charter schools to operate in Maryland.

Our administration will also push for the enactment of the “Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers” legislation, also known as “BOAST.”

It provides tax credits to those who make voluntary contributions to private or parochial schools, and it will help free up more money and resources for our students in public schools.

This legislation has been debated in these chambers for more than a decade. The Senate has already voted to support it. We need to work to convince our colleagues in the House that it is the right thing to do.

  1. Protecting The Environment

A healthy Bay is key to a strong economy and high quality of life – for all Marylanders.  It will be a top priority of our administration.

Even after spending $15 billion in Maryland tax dollars, the health of our Chesapeake Bay has declined. Maryland just received a D+ on a recent report card.

This is just the latest indicator that our current strategy for protecting and restoring our greatest natural asset is failing. Our administration intends to reverse that trend.

It’s time for a new approach. We can, and we must do better.

We all agree on the problem: there’s too much phosphorous, nitrogen, and sediment entering our bay. We must take action to prevent as much of this pollution as possible from entering the bay.

However – restoration of our bay must not fall on one group disproportionately. Placing unreasonable burdens upon Maryland’s farmers will serve only to devastate more rural communities.

We will work with the agricultural and environmental communities to find fair and balanced solutions for limiting phosphorus. In addition, we will take a comprehensive approach to restoring our bay by addressing the long-ignored impact of upstream polluters, and the sediment spilling over the Conowingo Dam.

We will work with all stakeholders to come up with fresh, innovative solutions to protect and restore our greatest natural asset.

  1. Tackling Maryland’s Heroin Epidemic

As I travel throughout our state, I hear the devastating stories from our families and friends who hurt from the devastation heroin has wreaked on our communities.

Throughout Maryland, from our smallest town to our biggest city, it has become an epidemic, and it is destroying lives. I have tasked Lt. Governor Rutherford with bringing together all of the stakeholders in order to come up with a plan to tackle this emergency.

Later this month, we will execute an executive order to address this heroin epidemic.

  1. Campaign Finance And Election Reform

The strength of our democracy rests on a balanced, honest and open political process that challenges convention and encourages progress.

The Fair Campaign Financing Act for gubernatorial elections provides this balance and opens discord. It levels the playing field and holds our elected leaders accountable.

And while many said we would never elect a governor because of the low spending limits mandated in our public finance laws, I stand before you today as proof that the system does work.

We must replenish this fund as soon as possible and make it available for future candidates. Therefore, we will submit legislation to reinstate the voluntary check-off which allows a taxpayer to make a donation to go towards the public campaign financing system each year.

Finally, we need to address redistricting reform.

We have some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country – this is not a distinction that we should be proud of.

Gerrymandering is a form of political gamesmanship that stifles real political debate and deprives citizens of meaningful choices. Fair and competitive elections – and having checks and balances – make for a more vibrant and responsive citizen republic.

To advance this discussion, I will execute an executive order that creates a bipartisan commission to examine Maryland’s redistricting process with the goal of fully reforming this process and giving this authority to an independent, bipartisan commission.

Though this is an ambitious agenda, I believe that these actions will begin to put Maryland on a new path, one that leads to a new era of opportunity, and prosperity for all our citizens.

Though our visions may differ, our goals are the same: a better, stronger, cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous Maryland. We can’t accomplish these goals alone. We need your help, your ideas, and your support.

And while I’m sure we will disagree on a few points in the coming weeks, I am prepared to create an environment of trust and cooperation, one in which the best ideas rise to the top based upon their merit, regardless of which side of the political debate they come from.

So let us commit ourselves to that goal: to live up to our potential, to work together to solve the big problems with cooperation and good faith, for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

Let us renew our sense of optimism, and make Maryland a place of unlimited promise. Together, let’s change Maryland for the better.

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