O'Malley highlights education, innovation
Gov. Martin O'Malley said Maryland's strides in public education provide the foundation for innovation that will help spur economic recovery, a key point in his State of the State address today in Annapolis.
"The state of our state is stronger than it was two years ago, stronger than it was even a year ago," he said. "But better isn't good enough."
Delivered to the 188 members of the General Assembly and an audience packed with state dignitaries, the speech was sprinkled with quotes from Presidents Obama, Lincoln and Clinton. The Democratic governor repeatedly called President Barack Obama's decisions "courageous" and borrowed his State of the Union theme: "win the future."
Maryland faces a deficit of as much as $1.6 billion, but O'Malley said the economy is showing signs of improvement, pointing to a decrease in home foreclosures and new public-private partnerships such as the Port of Baltimore. He lauded the K-12 school system for its three years at the top of Education Week's list of best districts.
"Innovation is key," he said. "And the foundation of innovation is education."
The governor’s address drew sparse applause, save for one area: holding utility companies accountable. The audience cheered repeatedly as O’Malley announced legislation that would set reliability standards for customers — a hot topic after recent winter storms left thousands of customers in the dark.
"Moms and dads deserve better than to sit for days in freezing homes because the power hasn’t been restored," he said. "Family-owned businesses should not be forced to lose productivity and income because big utilities have failed them."
Republicans said O'Malley's speech was out of sync with his policy choices.
"The governor always gives a great outline of things, but now the reality sets in," said Sen. E.J. Pipkin of the Eastern Shore, the Senate minority whip. He said the governor should be looking for additional education savings and more dramatic pension reform if he truly wants to solve the state's structural deficit.
In the party's response to O'Malley's address, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio of the Eastern Shore, the House minority whip, said Republicans agree with O'Malley's call to slow government spending and improve the economy.
"With that in mind, we expected a budget that was lean, that curbed spending and that addressed our structural deficit," she said in a speech taped this morning. She said O'Malley's spending plan, which was presented almost two weeks ago and must be approved by the General Assembly, "does not go far enough."
Republicans also questioned a new idea that emerged in O'Malley's address: banning the installation of septic systems in large-scale housing developments. That's already a restriction in Chesapeake Bay critical areas, but the governor asked legislators today to expand the program statewide.
Pipkin and others said that proposal would have a major impact on rural counties. He said there are "real question marks" about how it would work.