Could Be Worse, O'Malley Tells Marylanders as Cuts Get Deeper

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009

Maryland's budget cuts are painful. But it's far worse in California, where thousands of teachers are being laid off. And in Arizona, where the state is considering selling off legislative buildings. For that matter, it's worse in Minnesota, Rhode Island and many other places.

That, at least, is the message that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is spreading as he explains Maryland's efforts to balance its books.

With the recession taking a big toll on tax collections nationwide, O'Malley is hardly the only politician pointing to the worse-off plights of other states. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) recently noted the struggles of fellow governors, saying, "I wouldn't trade places with any of them."

But O'Malley, who is up for reelection next year, seems particularly eager to make the case that things are worse elsewhere.

"There's no stronger ship in the nation than the good ship Maryland," O'Malley asserted last week during a visit to Cecil County, a day after a state panel approved his latest round of budget cuts.

The cuts included state employee layoffs and furloughs and the near-elimination of state road aid for counties, including for the jurisdiction in which he was appearing. Funding for the state university system was also cut, a minimum-security prison was closed and reimbursements were reduced for health-care workers and facilities caring for Medicaid patients.

With additional rounds of reductions expected in coming months, even some fellow Democrats have questioned the value of the governor's rhetoric.

"Maryland saying we're not as bad off as other states is kind of like saying we have the best room on the Titanic," said Del. Murray D. Levy (D-Charles), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, who was quick to add that he understands why O'Malley is doing it.

"It's important to know this is not a unique situation," Levy said.

Republicans, who have yet to field a big-name challenger to O'Malley next year, have been less charitable as the governor has labored to close a $700 million shortfall that emerged in the state's $13 billion budget just weeks into the new fiscal year.

Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman accused O'Malley of "trying to divert attention" from Maryland's problems with his frequent references to other states, saying "the governor seems to have a very difficult time accepting responsibility for his actions."

"You can't dispute the national economy has played some role in it," said Kittleman (R-Howard), "but if the governor had made better decisions earlier, we wouldn't be in as bad of shape. It's true that California is in a bad position, but I'm not worried about California. I'm worried about Maryland."

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