NPR’s Ailsa Chang talks with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan about how the coronavirus has affected his state’s economy and how he’s planning to approach budget shortfalls at the start of a new fiscal year.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Congress is locked right now in fierce negotiations over a fifth rescue package. Enhanced unemployment benefits are set to expire in less than 72 hours, and state governments are struggling to balance their budgets while also trying to figure out how to get students back in school. Republicans and Democrats are more than $2 trillion apart right now, and all of this is playing out as coronavirus cases continue to spike across the country.
One person watching all of this very closely is Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan. He also leads the National Governors Association. Welcome, Governor.
LARRY HOGAN: Well, thank you for having me.
CHANG: So you, along with other governors like Andrew Cuomo of New York, have pushed this administration to include aid for states. And we just want to remind everyone that states, unlike the federal government, cannot run a deficit, which means many states could go bankrupt. So let me ask you – the Republican version of the rescue package does not currently contain any new money for states. So if Maryland doesn’t get any more money right now, how will operations and services change in your state for the average person, do you think?
HOGAN: Well, it’s going to be fairly dramatic. I’ll say we have another call today with the White House. And I’ve been leading these calls for four or five months with all the nation’s governors. I think Governor Cuomo will be joining me on that. We’ve already lost 1.6 million state and local government workers just over the past 60 days or so.
CHANG: And give us an idea of who those workers are. Are we talking about teachers, firemen losing their jobs?
HOGAN: Exactly. I mean, these are frontline health care workers. These are teachers and public safety officers and firemen and police officers. And we need this assistance from the federal government to help us provide those services to the people that we jointly represent. And we had a commitment to have that support, and now it appears as if they’re backpedaling. But we’re going to try to hold their feet to the fire. We’re trying to make sure that we can find some bipartisan compromise on this because in a couple of weeks, we’re going to be in real trouble.
CHANG: Well, about that compromise, I mean, Senator Rick Scott, the former Florida governor, he has said that he doesn’t want to see his state, Florida, paying for Maryland’s costs. So how would you respond to that point of view?
HOGAN: Well, I would say that Florida is going to have huge problems as well. So I don’t – I would disagree strongly with the former governor of Florida. But I can tell you that the NGA represents Republican and Democratic governors, and we had a unanimous position among all the governors pushing the White House since March that we need some of this assistance. I know Senator McConnell made the comment, just let the states go bankrupt. But that’s really not going to be helpful to our economic recovery if states are not able to provide basic services and if we’re putting more people in the unemployment lines.
CHANG: Let’s talk about this administration’s response. I mean, you have been openly critical of the president in how he has handled the pandemic. You’ve been talking to other governors, obviously, as chair of the National Governors Association. So let me ask you this – do you think the country would be any very different position right now if there were a clearer federal strategy?
HOGAN: First of all, I think – and I’ve said the president wasn’t taking it seriously enough back in the early stages in February and March and April. He was messaging wrong and saying that it was going to disappear and was not listening to the advice of some of the smart people in his administration and then not developing early enough a national testing strategy or some of the things that we’re now trying to catch up on. Yeah, we could have done things earlier. But right now, we just have to focus on where we go from here…
CHANG: And what kind of conversations have you had with the president so far, and how receptive is he to taking your advice?
HOGAN: Well, we have talks every single week with all of the nation’s governors, the vice president with the Coronavirus Task Force. And some things we’re still frustrated with, like, you know, we’re falling behind on testing once again, and we think the federal government can continue to provide more help in that direction. But we’re pleased on certain things, like they are making great progress on Operation Warp Speed and making tremendous progress on development of the vaccine utilizing, which we pushed for, utilizing the Defense Production Act to produce ventilators, which is no longer a problem. And we got them in hospitals across the country and ramping up production of swabs, which was a tremendous shortage at the beginning. So they made progress in certain areas. Other areas, we continue to, you know, express our concern and keep trying to drive, you know, more progress.
CHANG: And do you intend to vote for President Trump this November?
HOGAN: Well, I think like everybody else in America, you know, we’ve got 90 some days to figure out what direction the country should be heading. And like everybody else, I’m going to try to make that decision between now and November.
CHANG: I’m struck that your answer is not yes right now.
HOGAN: Well, you know, I was pretty clear I didn’t vote for the president in the last election. I know that comes as a shock to some folks, but I’ve been pretty direct about my concerns about the shortcomings. I’m also not thrilled with the choice on the other side of the ticket, though, so I think a lot of people in America are torn with where the country is going to go. And I think we’re going to figure that out between now and November.
Right now I’m trying to work – do the best I can working with the president and his team. I think that’s critically important right now. I know it’s hard in the middle of an election, but we’ve all got to put aside the partisan politics for a while and try to fight this virus together because this virus doesn’t recognize, you know, red states and blue states. And they don’t really care about who’s president. It’s going to keep coming at us, and we’ve got to work together to fight it.
CHANG: Larry Hogan is the chair of the National Governors Association and the author of “Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, A Global Pandemic And The Toxic Politics That Divide America.” Thank you very much for joining us today.
HOGAN: Thank you so much.
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