Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, pinch-hitting for Gov. Martin O'Malley as the closing speaker at the Maryland Association of Counties summer gathering Saturday, laid out a broad set of long-range priorities for Maryland — including education, health care, infrastructure and business development.
Brown took on the role traditionally reserved for the governor at the MACO convention. It was the first time in his six years as lieutenant governor that he has filled in for O'Malley at the high-profile event.
He took the opportunity to get in some bragging on his senior partner's behalf.
"Under Governor O'Malley's leadership, we've built the country's best school system, reduced our crime rate to historic lows, maintained a Triple A bond rating and balanced our budget through six difficult years of recession and recovery," he said.
In the past, the annual MACO gathering at the beach has often been used by governors to unveil the administration's legislative agenda for the next year's General Assembly session. Brown did not do that, however, instead proposing what he called "a vision of Maryland's future for the next decade."
Brown stressed four areas where he believes the state should concentrate its efforts:
•Continued investment in a state education system that some groups have ranked the best in the country. "No matter how limited our resources, we must commit ourselves to educating our children so that they can compete for the jobs of the future," he said.
•Improvements in health care, especially implementation of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Brown said the state is working to get the health benefit exchanges called for in the law up and running in 2014 — "even as other states sat idle on the sidelines"
•A modernization of the state's infrastructure, including a "strengthening" of transportation funding and an increased reliance on the type of public-private partnerships Brown has promoted as lieutenant governor.
"Marylanders are tired of sitting in traffic on some of the most crowded roads in the country. They're tired of seeing water flooding busy city streets. And they're tired of sitting in a dark home because our power infrastructure doesn't meet their needs," Brown said. He did not, however, propose any specific remedies or revenue sources.
•More support for state businesses, whether it be through regulatory reforms or direct investment through such programs as O'Malley's Invest Maryland, a tax credit program that raises money to help up-and-coming technology companies.
Brown noted that Maryland is among the richest states, where the 7 percent unemployment rate is 1.3 percentage points below the national average.
"It's not good enough to have a lower unemployment rate than the national average if we continue to see pockets of poverty in our state," he said.
The decade for which Brown sketched out his vision roughly encompasses the remaining two years of the O'Malley-Brown administration and the next two gubernatorial terms.
Brown is one of several Democrats expected to seek that office in 2014. In recent months the term-limited O'Malley, who has openly promoted Brown's candidacy for higher office, has increasingly given Brown high-level assignments that the governor might have taken on in previous years.
The lieutenant governor acknowledged in an interview that Saturday's appearance was the highest-profile event he has taken on so far. He said the administration has not yet formulated its 2013 agenda because it has been focused on the two special sessions O'Malley has called since the regular session ended in April.