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Session has optimistic opening

January 14, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Despite a nearly $2 billion budget deficit, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and local representatives said Wednesday they are optimistic about the state's ability to pull through tough economic times.

O'Malley addressed the House of Delegates and the Senate on Wednesday -- the first day of the General Assembly's 90-day legislative session.

"We face a very serious situation with the budget," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany. "We all have to work together."

O'Malley and others pledged for the second day to work with Democrats and Republicans to solve the state's financial problems.

"(O'Malley) was very optimistic," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington. "At the same time, everyone has to pledge to him that we're going to fully cooperate."

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Donoghue said lawmakers should resist pointing fingers or blaming the governor for "the state of the world."

While budget cuts already have been promised, details will not be known until O'Malley submits a budget next week. Myers said Washington County representatives must work to make sure local jobs and services are affected as little as possible.

He said the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, which faced cuts last year, must be spared.

Wednesday was largely routine for lawmakers who elected leadership in the House and Senate. Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, described it as "a lot of pomp and circumstance."

Speeches from O'Malley and others focused on the budget, but some bright spots statewide also were mentioned, like the state's recent No. 1 ranking in education by Education Week.

Shank said the right tone for the session was set by leadership's optimism and call for bipartisanship.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said the first day of the legislative session is always exciting, and that Wednesday's start went very smoothly.

Munson said he also was encouraged by the pledge by Democrats and Republicans to work together. He said members of the Senate understand the state has a "huge problem," but know that a solution can be found.

"We have to put our seat belts on for a wild ride," Donoghue said.

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