Tough choices that move Maryland forward

By Martin O'Malley
Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Post asked the candidates for Maryland governor: How will you close the state's budget deficits? And what more can a governor hope to achieve in a time of such severe fiscal constraints?

Just as every small business and family has been impacted by the national recession, every state in the nation faces tough budget challenges in the year ahead. Many other states have cut public education funding, putting thousands of teachers in unemployment lines; increased college tuition; and cut critical social services. In Maryland, we have made some tough but smart decisions to invest in the most critical priorities for our families, education, public safety and job creation. Because of this, Maryland is in better fiscal shape than most states and is better prepared to emerge from this global economic recession.

Together, we have made the tough choices to restore fiscal responsibility in Annapolis, protect our shared priorities, and position Maryland for long-term economic growth. During the past four years, I have cut $5.6 billion in state spending and abolished 4,200 state positions. Today, Maryland's General Fund is smaller than it was four years ago (for the first time since the Great Depression), and we have the lowest number of state employees per capita since 1974.

We addressed the $1.7 billion structural deficit left by the previous administration, reduced general fund spending by 3 percent (in contrast to the Ehrlich administration, which increased spending by 33 percent), and we submitted four balanced budgets below the tough spending affordability guidelines set by the General Assembly (three of four budgets submitted by the previous administration failed to meet this basic threshold for fiscal responsibility).

As a result, Maryland is creating jobs at twice the national rate. We've created more than 33,000 new jobs since January, the best year for job creation our state has had since 2000. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Maryland as one of America's two best states for innovation and entrepreneurship, and we've maintained our coveted AAA bond rating (one of only eight states to do so during the recession).

While making these tough and fiscally responsible decisions, we have also moved our state forward:

-- We've made record investments in public education and school construction, and made college more affordable at Maryland universities. And Maryland recently won President Obama's Race to the Top initiative to continue reforming our public schools.

-- We provided health care for more than 200,000 more Marylanders, half of whom are children, and improved important services provided by the state by expanding school and summer lunch programs, and creating a new online application system for services.

-- We've made tremendous progress toward restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, including bringing back Maryland's blue crab population; preserving open space and moving forward with renewable energy sources.

-- We've worked together with law enforcement and local officials to bring Maryland's violent crime and overall crime rate to their lowest levels since the 1970s.

The choices we've made over the past four years haven't always been easy. But with a government that works and an administration that fights on the side of Maryland families -- these tough choices have allowed us to protect the very things that move us forward. Public education. Affordable college. Job creation. Public transit. The bay and our environment.

As we look ahead to the next year, we face more tough choices. There are no quick fixes or easy answers. Former governor Bob Ehrlich's empty promise that we can all "eat cake and lose weight" won't move us forward in tough times. We have to be willing to make tough choices.

Many of the same promises that were made and broken eight years ago are once again being made on the campaign trail today. Bob Ehrlich has proposed over a billion dollars in new programs, but he hasn't told us how he will pay for them, except for cutting public education funding. This is not a plan that will move our state forward.

As we continue to fight our way out of the recession and into better days, we will continue to cut spending and continue to make tough choices. And we will continue to protect the priorities that give our state a competitive advantage and fuel our ability to move forward -- forward with more jobs, better schools, safer streets, more affordable college and a cleaner bay.

We can continue to win this battle for our future, if we are willing to make tough choices that put our families first. And to do that we need a governor who fights every battle on our side.

The writer, a Democrat, is seeking reelection as governor of Maryland.

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