Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday urged Maryland lawmakers to ban assault weapons, repeal the death penalty and embrace a twice-shunned proposal to expand the state’s use of renewable energy by offering incentives for the creation of an off-shore wind farm.
O’Malley (D) pressed his agenda in a 34-minute State of the State address — his seventh since taking office — in which he also argued that Maryland had weathered the recession better than other states through a series of “better choices,” including a continued commitment to education spending and a “balance” of budget cuts and tax increases.
“Our story, Maryland’s story, is the story of better choices and better results,” said O’Malley, who is term-limited and weighing a 2016 presidential bid.
Speaking to a joint session of the Maryland General Assembly and a statewide television audience, O’Malley also lamented having the “worst traffic congestion in the country” but stopped short of proposing any specific fix to the problem.
“We can either figure this out together, or every citizen in our state will continue to waste more time and more money sitting in traffic,” said O’Malley, who unsuccessfully pushed a plan last year to raise more revenue for transportation.
O’Malley said a plan recently outlined by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) was a good start this year. Under Miller’s proposal, the state would impose a 3 percent sales tax on gas and empower local leaders to raise additional revenue for road and mass transit projects.
O’Malley’s speech — which was also carried live on C-SPAN3 and delivered to an audience that included two former governors and a half-dozen foreign ambassadors — was praised by fellow Democrats as agenda-setting, but it was criticized by Republicans, who said they heard nothing new or visionary.
“The agenda had far more to do with his national ambitions than his state agenda,” said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil). “Isn’t it amazing, the one tax he hasn’t gotten to yet is the gas tax, and he puts it in his State of the State.”
O’Malley won a standing ovation for his call for an assault-weapons ban, part of a larger gun-safety package he has proposed in the aftermath of the massacre at a Newton, Conn., school last month.
“We lose too many American lives to gun violence,” O’Malley said. “Who can watch the sad images of the last several weeks, who can see the pictures of those young faces, and honestly say we’re doing enough?”
He also plugged several other gun-related initiatives, including requiring licenses for the purchase of all handguns. That proposal, he said, would not apply to hunting rifles.
On another priority, O’Malley argued that Maryland should abolish the death penalty, a position he has held for years. Repeal activists think they have lined up the votes to succeed this year with O’Malley’s help.
“The death penalty is expensive and it does not work, and we should stop doing it,” O’Malley said, arguing that capital punishment is not a deterrent and is racially biased.
Among those in the audience Wednesday was Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun and national advocate for abolition of the death penalty who wrote the book “Dead Man Walking.” She said it was “lovely, wonderful just see this advancing here.”
O’Malley cast his wind-power proposal as a job generator at a time when “job creation must be our top priority always.”
O’Malley argued that his plan, which would be financed in part through increases of up to $1.50 a month in residential electric bills, could make Maryland “the new regional manufacturing hub for wind turbines.”
The speech, which O’Malley began with praise for the Super Bowl-bound Baltimore Ravens, also included pitches for several other lower-profile legislative and budget initiatives that the governor is pushing during the 90-day legislative session.
One of those is $11.3 million in funding for a “course redesign” initiative that O’Malley said is part of an effort to increase college completion rates.
“We’ve done a good job of getting more of our children to college,” O’Malley said. “But we must do a better job of getting more of our students through college.”
Kate Havard contributed to this report.