ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Wes Moore emphasized commitment to public service in his first State of the State speech Wednesday, highlighting his proposal to create a service year program for high school graduates that he said will be the first of its kind in the nation.
Moore, who is the state’s first Black governor, noted that the word “service” comes from the Latin word for “slavery.”
“So, it’s fitting as the first African American in the state of Maryland to deliver this speech,” Moore said, pausing while lawmakers applauded, “standing in a building that was built by the hands of enslaved people, that we are now putting service … towards the good of all. The irony is that it’s service that will help save us.”
The new governor said he wants to promote service as a state ideal, telling legislators that he benefited because of people in his life “who stepped up even when they were not called.” He has set aside $18 million in the budget for a new Department of Service and Civic Innovation initiative — which will be a voluntary, service year program for high school graduates to better prepare them for future jobs.
“While our young people give back, they also lay the foundation for their future success through job training, through mentorship programs, and it creates a lifelong habit of service to our state — something we so desperately need,” Moore said. “Whether they’re preparing our state for the realities of climate change or tutoring our students, or caring for the sick, young people should have the option to perform important service today and build a foundation for our shared future.”
Moore, a Democrat who has been in office for two weeks, pitched his legislative priorities to a General Assembly where Democrats hold strong majorities. His landslide victory in November brought an exuberant lift to Democrats, who had grown weary from the rare, two-term tenure of a Republican governor in a state where Democrats outnumber GOP voters 2-1.
Moore entered office with the benefit of a large budget surplus, largely due to enormous federal COVID-19 pandemic relief. The governor’s $63.1 billion budget proposal, which is about 3% less than last year’s budget, includes about $2.5 billion in the state’s rainy day fund, or about 10% of the state’s general fund. In addition, the state budget has a fund balance of $820 million.
Speaking to a crowded room of legislators in the House of Delegates, Moore also focused on addressing childhood poverty. The former CEO of the national anti-poverty group called the Robin Hood Foundation has budgeted $171 million to permanently extend the earned income tax credit and to expand the child tax credit.
The governor, who served as a paratrooper and captain in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, also has set aside $33 million in his budget plan for tax relief for military retirees to encourage veterans to remain in Maryland.
During his speech, Moore introduced several guests to illustrate the need for the legislation he supports this session. One of them was Angela McCullough, a retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant, and the owner and CEO of Maryland-based consulting firm, Tri-Logistics.
“She’s an example of what our state needs more of,” Moore said.
The governor also called attention to a proposal to strengthen the pipeline of qualified teachers with a measure called the “Maryland Educator Shortage Act.” Moore said the measure will create new pathways to address the shortage of qualified teachers, giving students the mentors and leaders they need to explore the full range of opportunities in emerging sectors.
Moore also said he wants to increase salaries to recruit and retain corrections and parole officers. He said his budget calls for more than $30 million to get the state more staff and resident advisors for juveniles.
Moore also wants to reach a $15 hourly minimum wage at a faster pace than the gradual increases approved by lawmakers in 2019 and index it for inflation. Under current law, the state won’t reach $15 until 2025. The minimum wage rose to $13.25 last month.
Moore also underscored the importance of his proposed salary increases for state employees — in order to make state government a more attractive place to work. He also wants to fill about half of the state’s 6,500 vacant positions in executive branch agencies.
“This isn’t about creating big government,” Moore said. “This is about creating a better one.”