O'Malley Stresses Challenges Ahead

Md. Gov. Martin O'Malley delivered a State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly in Annapolis Thursday. Video by News Channel 8/WJLA-TV 7
By John Wagner and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 30, 2009

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) urged lawmakers yesterday to support a continued freeze on university tuition, an expansion of unemployment benefits and other initiatives to help Marylanders in "these very tough and challenging times."

At times pugnacious and partisan, O'Malley also used a 30-minute State of the State address to forcefully restate his call to repeal the death penalty, saying capital punishment was "outdated, expensive and utterly ineffective."

Addressing a joint session of the General Assembly, O'Malley spoke at length about accomplishments of his first two years but said he could not "sugarcoat" the financial challenges facing the state and its most vulnerable residents, including those struggling to pay winter heating bills. Among the initiatives he asked lawmakers to support is more energy assistance funding.

In the speech, which was interrupted more than 20 times by applause, O'Malley asked lawmakers "to stand up for Maryland families and to power through to the other side of this recession ahead of every other state."

His biggest applause line was one of several mentions of President Obama, whose economic stimulus package O'Malley is counting on to bolster a lean state budget for the coming fiscal year. "With the inspired leadership of our new president, Barack Obama, we finally have a federal partner who shares our commitment to progress," O'Malley said.

Republicans, the minority party in the House and Senate, derided the governor's speech as overly partisan and said O'Malley was relying too heavily on federal bailout money.

"This was the worst State of the State speech I've witnessed in 15 years," said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert). "It was partisan, it was petty and it displayed no leadership."

O'Malley pulled no punches in advocating for several of his priorities during the 90-day legislative session, including a fourth year of no tuition increases at Maryland's public universities.

Some lawmakers, including Democrats, have questioned whether the initiative is affordable, given a projected $2 billion shortfall facing the state. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) recently said O'Malley's plan was good politics but questionable policy.

"Is affordable college about politics?" O'Malley asked yesterday. "You're darn right it's about politics. It's about the politics of inclusion. It's about the politics of prosperity. It's about the politics of opportunity. It about the politics of my kids and yours. It's about the politics of the hardworking people we serve."

O'Malley plugged several other bills that he is pushing this session, including one to extend unemployment benefits to part-time workers. Another would expand the number of state construction contracts on which companies are required to pay workers a "prevailing wage," an amount significantly higher than the minimum wage.

O'Malley also took aim at mortgage companies that he said have not been cooperative with state efforts to ease foreclosures.

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