O'Malley talks taxes, but not specifics

Responding to repeated questions about tax increases on WTOP radio this morning, Gov. Martin O'Malley said: "We need to be open to a balanced approach, including, if necessary, looking at revenues."

Over the next few months the state will have to have "a conversation" about taxes, O'Malley said though he made it clear that he's not going to be a lone wolf howling for increases. "It will not be up to me," O'Malley said. "It will take a group effort."

WTOP reporter Mark Seagraves quizzed the governor for an hour on live radio this morning, focusing on the state budget, the economy and O'Malley's recent national talk show appearances as head of the Democratic Governors Association.

O'Malley declined several times to give any specifics on taxes that might be raised, though he pointed out that the Maryland General Assembly rejected his suggestion to peg the state's gas tax to an index which would trigger automatic increases. When asked if he would sign a five-cent bag tax similar to one in Washington, D.C., the governor said: "I don't know. What is your next question."

The Democratic Maryland governor also paid his neighbor a compliment, saying that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, is a "skilled communicator" who would "be a very attractive candidate" in the GOP pool for higher office. McDonnell's name has been floated recently as a possible vice presidential partner should Texas Gov. Rick Perry win the Republican nomination for president.

O'Malley and McDonnell squared off last weekend on CNNs "State of the Union." McDonnell recently became the head of the Republican Governors Association.

The interview hit a number of other topics:

* Teacher Pensions
O'Malley signaled a continued hesitation to transfer the costs associated with teacher pensions to county governments. "I have always been in favor of keeping it at the state level," O'Malley said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has repeatedly called to restructure those pension costs, putting more of the burden on the locals. But the county governments vehemently object, saying such a change would snap their already strapped budgets.

* Evolution on same-sex marriage
O'Malley said that he had previously "made a judgement" that the "point of consensus" on same-sex partnerships was civil unions, an arrangement that offers the same legal protections of marriage without issuing marriage certificates.

It is an idea that many in the gay community have rejected as a stamp of second-class citizenship. O'Malley switched his position and earlier this summer pledged to sponsor a same-sex marriage bill.  "I think the consensus that has been reached is marital equality rights," O'Malley said.

He predicted that there are "a number of different places" where he can find the votes to pass the bill. "I think it should pass," O'Malley said. "With every day that goes by people become more comfortable with the notion."

* Illegal immigration
In response to a caller who said the state is being inundated with illegal immigrants, O'Malley said: "I'm not aware of illegal immigrants coming into our state in droves."

* Toll increases
O'Malley floated the idea that the state's tolls should be "indexed." The state's toll costs have not risen in decades, though this year there's going to be a hike in order to pay for two massive transportation projects that are underway.