ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley highlighted his job creation proposals Feb. 2 to counteract the recession and cautioned that the “storm is not over,” but Republicans said his address sounded more like a re-election ad than a State of the State speech.
O’Malley avoided making any new proposals during his fourth annual address to a joint session of the Maryland General Assembly. Instead, the governor said the cornerstone of his legislative agenda this year will be jobs legislation that he already has outlined.
“Although fourth quarter economic growth has been the strongest our country has seen in six years, the storm is not over,” O’Malley said in a speech approximately 27 minutes long. “Wall Street has been stabilized, but Main Street still suffers.”
Democrats said they were optimistic O’Malley’s proposals would be approved without much change by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
“I think he laid out a vision for the future that makes sense fiscally and socially … but we have more to do, obviously,” said House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery.
He said Maryland residents could be proud of the state’s Triple A bond rating and a top ranking for Maryland public schools in an education trade journal.
Republicans, however, said the speech lacked substance.
“He wasn’t credible the whole way through,” said Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, the House minority leader. “It’s about: ’I’m a good guy, re-elect me,’ but, you know, where’s the substance?”
But House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said Republicans haven’t offered better suggestions, and no one has been complaining about the top-school’s ranking. He also noted that the state’s unemployment rate is almost 3 percentage points below the national average.
“I think those are all things that lend themselves to the fact that the state’s been well managed,” Busch said.
The GOP said the governor came late to the issue of job creation and became business-friendly only after pushing $1.4 billion in tax increases through a 2007 special session.
“This was the 2010 kickoff for the governor’s race — a lot of hyperbole, not long on a lot of substance and clearly what substance there was was more government,” said Sen. E.J. Pippin, an Upper Shore Republican. “That’s out of step with the voters of Maryland.”
To help reduce unemployment, which was 7.5 percent in Maryland in December, O’Malley is pushing for a $3,000 tax credit to businesses that hire an unemployed worker. The governor also proposes major investments in the state’s capital budget, which he hopes will generate more than 20,000 construction jobs in Maryland next year.
The governor also wants the Legislature to approve a three-year, $50 million tax credit to encourage revitalizing historic downtowns and Main Streets in Maryland.
O’Malley called attention to some recent job creation developments.
He said a public and private partnership at the Port of Baltimore will create 5,700 new jobs in construction and port operations. He also pointed out new job opportunities that will come from General Motors’ plan to build its new generation of electric hybrid engines in Maryland.
“And together we can and we must do more,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley, who has faced budget problems since he took office in 2007, said the $13 billion budget he proposed in January includes less spending on state operations than four years ago.
To balance the budget and fill a $2 billion budget deficit while avoiding large numbers of layoffs in the state work force, O’Malley used a combination of cuts, borrowing, fund transfers from reserves and hope for $389 million more in federal aid.
The governor also asked lawmakers to approve legislation to help protect families from home foreclosures. The proposal would require mortgage companies to enter mediation with homeowners before they can foreclose.
O’Malley said, “If they can pick up the phone to put a family into a home, shouldn’t they be able to pick up the phone before throwing a family out of a home?”