O'Malley poised to start on his statewide agenda

Martin O'Malley is to be sworn in today as Maryland's 61st governor with a 19-gun salute, parade and inaugural ball, ending a four-year experiment in divided government in Annapolis.

A steady stream of aides to Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. left their State House offices yesterday, clearing the way for the Democratic administration. Top secretaries in some departments submitted their resignations yesterday, and other workers in lower positions waited to see whether they would be replaced.


The transition has been hamstrung so far by circumstance. The state constitution calls for an incoming governor to be sworn in a week after the legislature is in session, and the outgoing Ehrlich administration was unable to find suitable space for O'Malley's transition office in Annapolis. That left O'Malley just where he has been since he became mayor of Baltimore in 1999: ensconced in the state's largest city, 40 miles from the center of Maryland's political action.

That has meant that the shape of the O'Malley administration is still something of a mystery in Annapolis, even among Democrats who worked for his election.


"It's like Waiting for Godot," said Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, referring to the Samuel Beckett play in which the title character never shows up.

O'Malley's plans for the state should become clearer in the next few days, when he will give an inaugural address, present his budget and unveil his legislative agenda. He'll get another turn on the stage a couple of weeks later when he gives the State of the State address.

The indications from O'Malley's transition team are that he is unlikely to stake out a radically new path for the state from the start. He has announced his picks for six departments so far, and all six of them worked in former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration, three in the same jobs O'Malley is nominating them for now.

The latest nominees are John R. Geffen as secretary of natural resources (the same job he held from 1994-1999), and Richard E. Hall as planning secretary. Hall is a veteran of the department who served throughout the terms of Glendening and Ehrlich but was hired under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Aides say O'Malley is unlikely to have an overly aggressive legislative agenda this year, preferring instead to take time to get to know the leaders in the State House and to build public support for his ideas.

He is interested, his advisers say, in tackling the state's biggest problems in a comprehensive way - solving the persistent gap between projected state spending and revenues, expanding access to health care and preventing sprawl in an age of growth. But big solutions, they say, take time.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," O'Malley's top policy and legislative aide, Joseph C. Bryce, told a group of local officials recently.

O'Malley aides say the new governor is likely to make an immediate mark through his administrative authority, not by pushing legislation. They said a key development in the beginning of the administration will be the implementation of StateStat, a performance measurement system modeled after one O'Malley instituted in Baltimore.


Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, said he expects to see O'Malley's campaign rhetoric about helping working families translated into concrete, measurable goals.

As a candidate, O'Malley made public position papers on 14 topics, from agriculture to transportation, in which he made 114 campaign promises, some specific and some general. McFadden said O'Malley reminds him of the last mayor to become governor - Schaefer - who was famously impatient when aides fell short of his goals.

"He wants to see things done," McFadden said. "If you don't perform, you will hear from Martin O'Malley."

The incoming governor has announced that he will come through on some major campaign promises this year. He said Monday that he will dedicate $400 million this year to school construction, and he said last week that he would fully fund Program Open Space, the state's principal land preservation program.

Sources who have been given preliminary briefings on the governor-elect's budget say he will propose a smaller increase in spending than the 7.9 percent the legislature's Spending Affordability Committee said the state could afford.

Still, some budget watchers in Annapolis are worried that O'Malley is committing too much of his budget to a few campaign promises and not being quick enough with a plan to address Maryland's long-term fiscal problems. O'Malley's budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 closes a projected $400 million gap between revenues and spending, but shortfalls of $1 billion or more are expected for the rest of his term.


O'Malley has pledged not to raise taxes or create any other major revenue sources this year.

The idea of a comprehensive overhaul of Maryland's tax structure - raising some levies and lowering others to increase the state's overall tax revenue - has been gaining support among legislative leaders since the election. Some, particularly Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, are pushing for a permanent budget fix this year.

Simmons said O'Malley will be judged on his ability to convince voters that the state needs more money if it wants to invest in education, transportation and other causes.

"The only way O'Malley, in my view, will have any kind of legacy in Maryland is if he's willing to go to the public and explain why we need it and ask for support for it," Simmons said. "Otherwise, he's going to end up a Democratic Ehrlich."

Sun reporter Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

For the record

An article in the Maryland section Wednesday misspelled the name of Gov. Martin O'Malley's nominee for secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. His name is John R. Griffin.The Sun regrets the error.