Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Wednesday called on Maryland lawmakers to make a series of “tough choices,” including voting for several tax increases, that he argued are needed to maintain the state’s top-ranked schools, build its transportation infrastructure and address other priorities.
“Asking our fellow citizens to do more will not be popular,” O’Malley said in a 33-minute State of the State address. “But without anger, fear or meanness, let’s ask one another: How much less do we think would be good for our children’s future? How much less education do we want? How much less public safety? How many fewer jobs? There are costs, and there are values.”
In his speech, which was interrupted with applause two dozen times but greeted with blistering criticism afterward from Republicans, O’Malley also pressed his case for legalizing same-sex marriage this year.
During the address to a joint session of the General Assembly, O’Malley cast his economic priorities as necessary for job creation, using the word “job” or “jobs” nearly 50 times in the speech. He said he was not “sugar-coating” the choices lawmakers face.
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil), who offered the Republican response, suggested the primary impact of O’Malley’s proposals would be to hurt Maryland families.
“We hear a lot of talk from Governor O’Malley about tough decisions and balanced approaches and investments,” Pipkin said. “But what’s so tough about using the power of government to take away your hard earned money?”
During the 90-day legislative session that began last month, O’Malley is pushing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars more in transportation and other infrastructure projects, to jump-start the state’s wind-power industry and to alter the way the state pays for teacher pensions.
To pay for those and other priorities, and to help close a budget shortfall, the governor asked to raises incomes taxes on the top 20 percent of Marylanders, to apply the 6 percent sales tax to gasoline, to increase collection of the so-called “flush tax” and to raise several other levies.
In pressing the argument for raising taxes on gasoline, O’Malley said that Maryland “has some of the worst roads in America” and argued “we pay a heavy price in terms of the time we spend idling in bumper-to-bumper traffic when we could be at home with our families.”
O’Malley has either formally proposed or informally floated his various priorities in recent weeks. Wednesday’s speech was an opportunity to make his case for those initiatives individually and collectively to a captive audience of lawmakers and assorted dignitaries.
“May the choices we make on behalf of the people of Maryland — the choices for job creation, the choices for human dignity, the choices for a better future — be the right choices for the generations counting on ours,” the governor said at the close of his speech.