- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Expanding health care, toughening car-emission standards and streamlining government are among the bills that Gov. Martin O’Malley says he will submit to the General Assembly.

“Our legislative agenda is focused on improving our quality of life in Maryland — improving education and health care in our state, improving the health of our environment and the [Chesapeake] Bay and making government work again for the people of our state,” Mr. O’Malley said in announcing his agenda last night.

The details came after months of mostly silence about his plans to run the state. He also said that he would phase in regional education funding and that his government reorganization would be a statewide version of the plan he used as mayor of Baltimore.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat who took office Wednesday, said he will submit 13 bills to the Democrat-controlled legislature.

“We’re going to come up with some new revenues next year,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat. “It will be the defining year of [Mr. O’Malley’s] administration.”

The school funding plan — known as geographic index for education, or GCEI — would require the state to spend more money in Baltimore and other jurisdictions in which children are more expensive to educate.

The funding plan is part of the state education plan known as the Thornton Commission initiative and not included in Mr. O’Malley’s first-year budget. The governor plans to phase in the funding from 2009 to 2011.

“The concern we have here is that we are already in a budget crisis because of Thornton,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican. “I think he proved the previous governor right in that GCEI is not mandated. We don’t have the financial resources.”

The governor’s agenda also includes a bill requiring health insurers to cover dependents up to age 25, lengthening the tuition freeze at state universities to the 2007-08 school year and tougher penalties for oyster poaching.

“These are fiscally irresponsible policies, particularly in these times of significant structural deficits caused by the Democratic majority’s unfunded mandates,” said Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman Audra Miller.

The announcement on the first round of legislation follows criticism that the new governor has been short on specifics since being elected in November.

The emission standards are based on those in California. The governor also intends to create a life-sciences review board to coordinate business and economic-development policy

In 2003, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, introduced his top priorities in a State of the State address that featured five “Faces of Maryland.” Each Maryland resident symbolized a key concern for Mr. Ehrlich, including more money for charter schools and promoting faith-based charities.

Mr. O’Malley is scheduled to deliver his State of the State on Jan. 31.

The legislative announcement follows Mr. O’Malley’s statement last week that he will deliver a balanced budget by making a one-time, $967 million withdrawal from Maryland’s “rainy day” fund, postponing debate on the state’s structural deficit, increased taxes and legalized slot machines.

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