Bipartisan tone sets opening session

January 13, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. Martin O'Malley met with the Republican caucus Tuesday, making a plea for bipartisan support he said was needed to see the state through tough economic times.

"I can get along with the governor when it's in the best interests of my constituents to do so," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, of the Democratic governor.

The General Assembly's legislative session begins Wednesday, and O'Malley is required to submit a budget by Jan. 21.

Munson said both parties would have to reach across the aisle if lawmakers intend to approve a responsible budget and fix the state's economic crisis. Officials are anticipating a state budget deficit of about $1.9 billion for the upcoming fiscal year and are expecting to cut about $400 million from the current year's budget.

"It's critical that we do work together to get this thing under control," Munson said.

Munson, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, attended the Republican caucus Tuesday.


They heard O'Malley paint a bleak picture of the state's financial strength.

"We have a lot of challenges in front of us," O'Malley said.

It was the first time since his 2006 election that O'Malley addressed the caucus, according to Munson's office.

O'Malley said fiscal conservatives would be pleased to know that this year's budget would be "real, real lean."

Shank, the House Minority Whip, said Republicans would meet the governor halfway and that a tone of bipartisanship would be returned.

Shank has been openly critical of the O'Malley administration's spending and policies, but told O'Malley that he wanted to start the legislative session with the right tone.

Shank praised the pledge of bipartisanship, which President-elect Barack Obama also has promised.

"I think the American public, after an election cycle, expects their leader at both national and state levels, particularly now that the economy and budget deficit have become such huge issues of concern, to try to find ways to work across the aisle and solve the problems rather than fight about them," Shank said.

Serafini said it was interesting to hear the self-described "liberal Democrat" Comptroller Peter Franchot speak during Tuesday's caucus and press for a fiscally conservative approach to this year's budget.

"I think that's going to be the interesting thing," Serafini said. "In very difficult times ... the times for fighting along party lines is not now. In difficult times like this, everyone has to set that aside and work together."

Aside from the joint meeting of House and Senate Republicans, Tuesday was a more relaxed day for local lawmakers, with some taking the time to finalize Annapolis lodging and set up their offices.

Munson said the transition into the legislative session is easy for him because he typically spends two to three days each week in Annapolis when the General Assembly is not in session.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he spent much of the day with his 3-year-old daughter. In the past, his family has stayed in Annapolis with him during the three-month session. However, this year with his 5-year-old son in school, his family will stay behind, and Mooney said he was trying to spend as much time with them as possible to make up for his upcoming absence.

Serafini spent his evening watching his children compete in basketball games.

"I'm trying to make up for (being away) where I can," Mooney said.

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