ANNAPOLIS – Maryland is facing difficult economic times, but by working together lawmakers will be able to continue investing in public safety, education and other priorities, Gov. Martin O’Malley said in his second State of the State Address Wednesday.
“The way to get through these tough times is together,” he said.
O’Malley focused on the nation’s economic downturn as a cause for concern and frustration among Marylanders as increases in wages lag significantly behind increases in the cost of living. The rising price of necessities like milk, bread and of course, gasoline, are making times tough, O’Malley said.
“We see it in the eyes of the people we serve, we hear it in their voices,” he said.
As he has done repeatedly since the beginning of the regular session, O’Malley reminded lawmakers that making the reductions necessary to balance the budget while keeping the needs of residents in mind requires difficult decisions. Those include new taxes passed during a November special session that angered O’Malley’s opponents and that polls show cost the governor significant public support.
“We need to tell the governor to stop digging the hole — We just had the largest tax increase in Maryland history,” said Sen. Edward J. Pipkin, R-Cecil. “That was wrong; we should’ve cut spending instead, and he needs to be doing that now, but all he’s proposing is more and more spending.”
Chief among the governor’s list of priorities was public safety. O’Malley once again called for improving Maryland’s DNA database and implementing a GPS tracking system that he says will help in preventing repeat offenses among juveniles.
He stressed that safety concerns are important to all Marylanders, quoting Robert Kennedy by saying that violence affects those who are rich or poor, black or white, old or young.
“We have the opportunity to make ours the safest state in the union,” he said.
An important part of those efforts is identifying offenders and preventing crimes early, as well as tracking offenders, especially juveniles, to keep them from reentering the justice system, he said. With DNA and GPS technology, “we can put murderers and rapists behind bars before they murder or rape again,” O’Malley said.
Extending education opportunities, particularly to veterans, is also part of the effort to protect Marylanders’ values, O’Malley said. He restated a request for an in-state tuition freeze at Maryland’s public colleges and universities in the coming year, a call that was greeted with applause from lawmakers.
“Hard-working families should be able to send their children to a school in Maryland,” he said.
Improving education will help protect and build the state’s workforce, he said.
O’Malley’s list of priorities also included expanding health care coverage in the state and helping thousands of families “end the fast-track to foreclosure.” The governor recently offered a number of regulatory and legislative initiatives to help Marylanders who are in danger of losing their homes in the ongoing mortgage crisis.
He recounted reductions made to the budget in the last year and argued that his proposal came in under the Spending Affordability Committee’s recommendations again this year.
Nevertheless, the tax increases passed during the special session were on the minds of many in attendance, particularly in light of federal efforts to spur the slowing economy.
The Federal Reserve this week cut interest rates by three quarters of a percent, said Comptroller Peter Franchot.
“That’s highly unusual, that is way out of the ordinary. That is an emergency cut. I didn’t see that reflected in anything I heard today. Maybe I missed it,” Franchot said.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester, echoed the sentiment, saying this is just the kind of situation in which economists say taxes should be lowered rather than raised, as O’Malley and the legislature have done.
But Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said the governor was doing the best he could with the situation he inherited.
“The deficit fell in his lap, the problems with the national economy; I think he just wants to hold on to what he’s gained so far,” Pinsky said.