In State of the State speech, Md. Gov. O'Malley focuses on jobs

By John Wagner and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Tuesday urged the General Assembly to focus on job creation during its 90-day session, calling on lawmakers to pass a tax credit for hiring unemployed people, expand a loan program for small businesses, and invest in new schools and other construction projects.

O'Malley also used his final State of the State speech before facing reelection this fall to tout a reduction in homicides, a four-year freeze in university tuition and the expansion of subsidized health insurance -- all of which he said happened "not by chance but by choice."

"This recession will end," O'Malley said toward the end of the 27-minute speech to a joint session of the legislature. "Our journey is not over. And our best days are still in front of us, if we make it so."

The speech, which aired live on public television, drew immediate criticism from Republicans, who said it was polished but light on specifics about job creation and other priorities.

"Words aren't going to solve this problem; a good speech isn't going to make the people of Maryland have jobs tomorrow," said Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard), who taped a response to the address without having seen it.

Kittleman said O'Malley's initiatives appeared to be a response to recent Republican victories in states that President Obama carried a year ago.

"He's coming late to this party. He's seen the results in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts," Kittleman said. "He's worried, and I'm glad he's worried, because the people of Maryland need a governor who is looking out for them and not his own political future."

It is looking increasingly likely that O'Malley (D) will be running against former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) in November, a rematch of the 2006 race, which O'Malley won by 6.5 percentage points.

More fundamentally, though, O'Malley and other incumbents face public anxiety over the still-fragile economy and, at least in some quarters, a profound distrust of politicians' ability to do anything about it.

In his speech, O'Malley also called on lawmakers to stand up to "the relentless, home-destroying machinery of national mortgage companies" by passing legislation requiring mediation before many home foreclosures. And he mentioned several other priorities, including strengthening laws against sex offenders.

But, in a speech that included about three dozen references to "jobs," O'Malley said that "progress requires that we focus the energies of this session on three primary actions: creating jobs, saving jobs and protecting jobs."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) applauded O'Malley's proposed tax credit to businesses for hiring unemployed workers and chided Republican critics, saying they were not offering credible alternatives.

"There's a lot of people out there that are fearful they are going to lose their job, they are going to lose their home," Busch said. "They want their government to try to stand up and find solutions that help them get back in the workplace, that give them the stability to know they are going to be able to pay their mortgage, that they can take their kids to the doctor and pay for the doctor's bills. They want their elected officials to solve problems, not cause problems."

O'Malley's proposals include a $3,000 tax credit for every person companies hire off Maryland's unemployment rolls. The initiative would be capped at $20 million in the coming year.

O'Malley is also proposing expanding a loan guaranty program for small businesses and simplifying the application process.

And he cast several existing initiatives as job creators, including a plan to spend $250 million on school construction next year -- a figure similar to those in previous years during his administration.

"I'm asking you to create jobs through major investments in this year's proposed capital budget -- rebuilding schools, rebuilding roads and water infrastructure, rebuilding community colleges and science labs," O'Malley said.

The governor also touted the long-proposed Purple Line, which would link by rail Montgomery and Prince George's counties, as a job creator. And he plugged another proposed tax credit, to help revitalize historic downtown areas, saying it would help create "hundreds of jobs."

Turning later in the speech to "progress" during his first three years in office, O'Malley hailed "the No. 1-ranked, best public school system in America" -- a reference to a ranking from Education Week magazine for the past two years.

O'Malley also said, "We have made college more affordable for more families in Maryland by going four years in a row without a penny's increase in college tuition for Maryland residents." The governor made no mention of his budget proposal for the coming year, which would allow the university system to raise tuition by 3 percent.

O'Malley said it was "not by chance but by choice that together we have driven violent crime in Maryland to its lowest level since 1987."

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) said he considered O'Malley's speech "a complete detachment from reality."

"It was the 'state of what I'd like it to be because I'm running for reelection,' " O'Donnell said. "He claimed to have created jobs he didn't create; he claimed to clean up the Bay and clean up the environment when he didn't do it. He was just not credible all the way through. . . . It was about 'I'm a good guy; reelect me.' "

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