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O'Malley says state facing tough choices because of budget gap

O'Malley is proposing nearly $1 billion in cuts in fiscal 2012 budget, but overall spending still would go up

February 03, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland's high rank in innovation and science will help hasten the state's economic recovery, Gov. Martin O'Malley said Thursday in his annual address to the legislature.

In his fifth State of the State speech, O'Malley said Maryland is well positioned in its public and higher education systems, environmental protection measures and high-tech job opportunities.

But, he said, the state faces tough choices because of an estimated $1.4 billion budget gap.

"The best option for our most-important priorities is to defend them by level-funding them," he said, referring to keeping the same amount of funding from year to year.

O'Malley is proposing nearly $1 billion in cuts in his fiscal 2012 budget, although overall spending still would increase. He has recommended consolidating some state agencies to cut costs.

O'Malley also spoke of his plans to offer $100 million in venture capital, to streamline the state's business licensing and permitting process, and to push for more renewable energy.

He blasted utility companies that take days to restore power after a storm and said he'll introduce legislation to set "reliability standards for electric customers."

Members of the Washington County delegation zeroed in on one idea O'Malley mentioned in his speech — eliminating septic systems from all new major housing developments — but also commented on his broader messages.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, said O'Malley mentioned what he expected — a tight budget, job creation and the success of Maryland's public education.

Those themes, and the need for lower taxes, should be obvious to "anybody that campaigned hard this last year," Young said.

"He emphasized one, what had to be done, and two, what the public's concerned and talking about," he said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, was skeptical.

"It all sounds good," he said. "But I still do not understand how we have done enough to solve our budget problems when the recovery, as I see it as a business person, is slow, and we're not as quick to rebound as we have in other recessions."

"I heard emphasized again in his speech that we need jobs," said Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington. "But all the jobs I heard him talking about were either quasi-government jobs or government jobs. He's not talked about private sector jobs, and that's the way we're going to get out of this recession."

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, thought the speech didn't say enough about the budget gap as an overarching dilemma for the legislative session.

"How do we solve it without expanding and doing new things when we're not paying for what we currently have? ... We are spending more money at a time that revenues are down (from) where they were in 2006," he said.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he has a different philosophy than O'Malley, who talked about new ways to spend money.

"I look at entrepreneurs and innovators who simply want to be unshackled by government," Shank said. "I don't think they need government to invest to make them prosperous."

Shank said he wants to hear more about O'Malley's interest in streamlining government.

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