O'Malley's final State of the State pitches minimum wage

The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O’Malley delivered the final State of the State speech of his tenure Thursday in an address that recounted his seven years as governor and argued for policies to help the middle class.

“We’ve lost sight of how our economy works when our economy is actually working,” he said. “Prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top. It never has. It's built from the middle out — and from the middle up.”

The term-limited O’Malley, who is considering whether to run for president, reflected on his time in the Governor’s Mansion as a period of tough choices and progress during the economic recession during his 30-minute speech, saying he left the state better than when he took office. 

"Seven years ago, we were failing to live up to our state's full potential," O'Malley said. "Seven years later, we are not just one Maryland, but in many measures we are number one Maryland."

The governor’s speech chronicled what he views as his top accomplishments in office, including high-ranked schools, low increases in college tuition, high median income and what O’Malley considers a fundamentally different style of governing: setting specific, measurable goals and using data to determine if he met them.

He also acknowledged the "failure" of Maryland's health care exchange, calling it "a great source of frustration," but saying his administration would not give up.

"Sometimes failure kicks the deepest spur," he said.

The address, before state lawmakers convened in joint session, was recevied warmly by most fellow Democrats and criticized by Republicans who say his legacy is one of tax increases.

"He is missing the real crisis in Maryland, and there is this overwhelming feeling that people are being over taxed," House Minority Leader Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County said. 

O’Malley also made a direct pitch to raise Maryland’s minimum wage in an argument framed as a way to strengthen the middle class, help working mothers, and spark economic growth.

“No person who works full-time and plays by the rules, should be forced to raise their family in poverty,” the governor said. “Should we be satisfied as a people, as a country, as a State, if our corporations are becoming ever more profitable, and yet so many of our people are unemployed?”

As O’Malley pressed his case to raise the minimum wage in Maryland from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2016, he said that the state is part of a larger national economy and everyone benefits when people are pulled out of poverty.

He also made a pitch for some of his legislative agenda, including expanding access to pre-kindergarten and strengthening domestic violence laws.

Legislative leaders say there is broad support to raise the minimum wage for the first time since 2009, but consensus has yet to develop on how high and how quickly it should change. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has twice publicly urged his colleagues to seek compromise and warned that it is unlikely for the state to set one rate for the entire state.

O’Malley’s address also called the state government the most efficient since 1973, and said that today’s generation demands measurable accountability like none before it.

“Setting goals. Measuring performance. Hitting deadlines. Getting Results. Making the work of progress visible for you to see, and for me to see,” O’Malley said.  “Every day, the test of any policy, action, or expenditure, has been whether or not it is actually working—working to produce the intended results.”

Republican Sen. David Brinkley, the minority leader, gave the Republican response to O’Malley’s speech.

"As you heard, he’s very proud of his accomplishments as he considers a run for President of the United States in 2016," Brinkely said. 

The annual address drew an ambassador, members of commerce, college presidents, and state leaders to the chambers of the State House. 

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