Get unlimited digital access to baltimoresun.com. $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Editorial

O'Malley takes a bow

As Muhammad Ali once observed, "It's not bragging if you can back it up." Thus, even his most caustic critics will have to concede that Gov. Martin O'Malley's State of the State address may have been the most heavily footnoted piece of braggadocio in Maryland history.

Here's the CliffsNotes version of what Governor O'Malley had to say this afternoon: In the economic downturn, Maryland had to make tough choices, but they were good decisions — better than made elsewhere — and now things are looking pretty good. (Add no fewer than 28 footnoted claims about how the state leads the nation in public education, entrepreneurship, median family income, etc., as well as a fairly ambitious legislative agenda for 2013, and you can delete the speech from your DVR).

As boastful as that may seem, the governor had some valid points to make — and it's more than worthwhile to walk through the last half-decade or so of economic downturn and recovery to consider the journey Maryland has taken. Much of it involved finding a balance between preserving the services provided by government against substantially raising taxes and fees.

For the most part, core functions like public schools and higher education won out. Mr. O'Malley and the General Assembly raised taxes (on more than one occasion) to address deficits and make sure schools were sufficiently funded. The governor pushed through a substantial expansion of legalized gambling (which might be considered a tax on the foolish). But he also cut back on many government programs, constrained the growth in spending, shrank local aid, and forced state employees to contribute more to their pensions.

Today, state government appears to be in much better shape, particularly its budget. Instead of the $1.7 billion structural deficit the governor faced just five years ago, the projected shortfall is now "nearly" eliminated, as Mr. O'Malley noted. Meanwhile, Maryland schools are generally well-regarded (with some exceptions, of course), the economy is growing (albeit modestly), violent crime is down, the state's credit rating is as high as ever and Baltimore's port and airport are doing record business.

As for looking forward, the governor reiterated his support for the major items in his legislative agenda: gun control, abolishing the death penalty, offshore wind power and some tax credits. He even put in a plug for addressing the "worst traffic congestion in the country" but found little enthusiasm in his audience of lawmakers and political glitterati for the obvious — though unspoken — remedy of a higher state gas tax.

We could quibble with some of the governor's more self-serving assertions (aside from his unyielding support for the Ravens) but perhaps the most glaring shortcoming of the address was a notable absence: not even so much as a passing reference to $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, the much-feared federal sequestration, that could become a reality in one short month.

If Mr. O'Malley thinks he has introduced a "jobs" budget because it contains some modest tax incentives and supports some capital projects, he may find it wholly inadequate on March 2, the day after the congressional deadline. The standoff seems much like the fiscal cliff debate of last year — only with even less chance of compromise, given that the Bush tax cuts are no longer on the table. Those sequestration cuts to government agencies, defense contractors and others will be felt most keenly in Maryland, perhaps more so than anywhere else.

That's not to rain on the governor's parade. If this was an audition for the 2016 presidential election, Mr. O'Malley demonstrated some much-improved oratory skills in his seventh State of the State speech. He smartly packed the audience with some notable achievers, ranging from a teen entrepreneur to an award-winning scientist. He's made those good, if difficult, policy choices over the years, and it's reasonable to crow about some of them.

But for all the happy talk, there's a pretty serious threat to this state's well-being lurking just a 45-minute drive west from the State House. Perhaps there's little the Democratic governor of a medium-sized state can do about partisan gridlock in Washington, but it should be A-material for a potential presidential candidate. Off-message, maybe, if the point was to look like a problem-solver, but all that optimism called for a little bit of caution, too.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • Easter a time to renew — and for renewable wind energy
      Easter a time to renew — and for renewable wind energy

      Easter's message of hope and new life is a universal and much-needed one throughout the world, but particularly for Marylanders this year as we celebrate the passage of the offshore wind bill by the Maryland General Assembly.

    • Street policing doesn't belong in school
      Street policing doesn't belong in school

      In recent months, there has been a flood of video evidence of police violence in our communities. Earlier this week, a gut-wrenching video surfaced that shows a school police officer violently attacking three young girls inside one of our middle schools. The incident starts when one of the...

    • Look to animals to cure Ebola
      Look to animals to cure Ebola

      GlaxoSmithKline and Merck will test new Ebola vaccines in West Africa this month. They're racing to cure this disease that causes severe hemorrhagic fever in humans and other mammals. To date, Ebola has claimed more than 8,600 lives and infected more than 20,000 people in Sierra Leone,...

    • Why Black History Month?
      Why Black History Month?

      Every February, college professors like myself are tasked with reminding students and the general public of the significance of Black History Month. Undoubtedly, many people understand the potential value behind a designated month dedicated to this part of American history. Our country is...

    • Lexington Market overhaul [Poll]
      Lexington Market overhaul [Poll]
    • Mr. Obama's 529 brouhaha
      Mr. Obama's 529 brouhaha

      Rarely does a president flip-flop on an initiative presented in the State of the Union address as quickly as Barack Obama did this week. He reversed himself on 529 college savings plans on Tuesday, which was just seven days after his speech to the nation. Such a political miscalculation is...

    • Defeating Boko Haram
      Defeating Boko Haram

      The bloody attacks in Paris this month that left 20 people dead, including the three attackers, riveted the world's attention on the growing threat Islamist extremist groups pose to the democracies of Western Europe. Yet even as the French people were mourning their loss, an even more...

    • Another snow job
      Another snow job

      The network meteorologists barely had time to come up for air while "forecasting" the latest snowstorm non-disaster. Politicians, fearing what might happen to their approval numbers if a blizzard hit, went on TV to announce they were taking proactive measures. New York City Mayor Bill...

    Comments
    Loading