STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS

O'Malley Pushes 'Shared Agenda,' Notes Budget Challenges

Gov. Martin O'Malley appears before a joint session of the General Assembly for his first State of the State address. Among priorities he listed were school construction, a college tuition freeze and tighter auto emission standards.
Gov. Martin O'Malley appears before a joint session of the General Assembly for his first State of the State address. Among priorities he listed were school construction, a college tuition freeze and tighter auto emission standards. (James M. Thresher - Twp)
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged yesterday to bring a heightened professionalism to state government and called upon lawmakers to make immediate progress on a "shared agenda" after four years of "drift" and division under his Republican predecessor.

Appearing before a joint session of the General Assembly for his first State of the State address, O'Malley (D) listed his priorities for the legislative session, including record spending on school construction, a freeze on college tuition and adoption of tighter emission standards for automobiles. And he added a new agenda item: a "living wage" bill that would require a minimum level of pay for employees of state contractors.

In a 33-minute speech that was interrupted more than two dozen times by applause, O'Malley also acknowledged longer-term challenges confronting the state, including a $1.3 billion projected budget shortfall that is expected to spark fierce debate next year over tax increases, spending cuts and the legalization of slot-machine gambling. But O'Malley urged lawmakers to stay focused during the 90-day session on issues for which consensus is achievable.

"We cannot resolve every unsettled issue in just 90 days, nor can we heal in 90 days divisions that were four years in the making," O'Malley told a packed House chamber that included three former governors. "But we must do all that we can to maximize the effectiveness of this session -- and these four years -- for the people of our state. For success breeds success. Mutual respect builds mutual trust. And important things done well make even greater things possible."

O'Malley's pledge to work with lawmakers to "get things done again" -- an implicit rhetorical slap at former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- was enthusiastically received by fellow Democrats, including some who have urged him not to delay in addressing the state's budget problems.

"We have less money to spend than we have had at any time in recent history, yet people are enthusiastic because of the messenger," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). "It's as happy as I've seen things in 20 years."

Although they rose to applaud at times, Republicans, the minority party in both chambers, offered more lukewarm assessments of the address, suggesting that O'Malley's call for consensus was undermined by his criticism of Ehrlich.

O'Malley did not mention Ehrlich by name, but he referred early in his remarks to "the drift of recent years" and later criticized Ehrlich's diversion of land-preservation funding early in his term as "stealing from our children's future."

"He was taking potshots at Republicans," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford). "That's not someone who appears to me to be trying to build consensus."

State GOP Chairman James Pelura criticized O'Malley for putting off difficult budget decisions for a year, saying in a statement that O'Malley "has purposefully set our state on a fiscally irresponsible path that will result in more taxes on the hard-working families of Maryland."

The closest O'Malley came in his speech to acknowledging the prospect of tax increases was during his discussion of the state's transportation needs.

"All of us must recognize that however efficiently and effectively we stretch our state's current investment in transportation solutions, we will never be able to multiply bread and fishes to cover the multitude of needs without new dollars," O'Malley said.


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