In an annual speech sometimes used to outline future goals, Gov Martin O'Malley on Saturday revealed few plans for his remaining year and a half in office. Instead, he offered a positive assessment of the state of Maryland.
O'Malley, a Democrat who is considering a run for president, spoke at the annual summer conference of the Maryland Association of Counties, telling local leaders that together they had made tough choices and weathered the recession well.
"Anyone can govern when times are easy, but all of you have governed through the most difficult of times," O'Malley told the gathering of county executives, commissioners and other officials.
The conference is one of the top events on Maryland's political calendar, bringing Republicans and Democrats together — ostensibly in bipartisan camaraderie. In past years, governors have frequently used it as a venue for laying out their agendas for the next legislative session, but O'Malley announced no such plans.
Instead, the governor boasted of the ways Maryland outperformed other states. He cited the state's No. 1 rankings in public schools, income, entrepreneurship, women-owned businesses and other categories. The governor also said Maryland has regained 99 percent of the jobs lost during the economic downturn that hit in 2008 and is creating jobs at a faster pace than any other state in the region.
"These are the better results that flow from the better choices we made together," O'Malley said.
Left unimpressed by the governor's upbeat assessment was Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2014.
"I disagree with just about everything he said," said Craig. He took particular issue with the governor saying he made tough budget cuts.
"Obviously he can't do arithmetic. The budget's been more than it was when he started," Craig said. "He says 99 percent of the jobs are back. Then why is the unemployment rate twice as high in Harford County and everywhere in the whole state from 2008?"
O'Malley also praised Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who attended the conference Thursday and Friday. Brown is running to succeed O'Malley with the governor's support.
This week, Brown's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, was reported to have criticized Brown behind closed doors as a candidate with few accomplishments who was basing his campaign on an aspiration to be the state's first African-American governor.
O'Malley highlighted various issues on which he credited Brown with taking a leading role — from preparing for military base expansion to leading the state's efforts to implement President Obama's health care reform pan.
Asked afterward whether his remarks were prompted by Gansler's critique, a smiling O'Malley said he had praised the lieutenant governor at previous MACo conferences.
The governor did announce the members of a task force on local and regional transportation funding issues.
The group, created by the same legislation that raised the state's gas tax this year, is charged with exploring ways to finance large capital investments in transit projects. Projects such as Baltimore's Red Line and the Washington region's Purple Line tend to be much desired by metropolitan jurisdictions but resented in rural counties who want more money spent on roads.
O'Malley named his former chief of staff, Matthew D. Gallagher, to head the 11-member, bipartisan panel. Gallagher now serves as chief executive of the Goldseker Foundation, a Baltimore nonprofit. Also named to the panel were Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr., the former Baltimore County executive, and lawmakers from around the state.