- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2011

Creating new jobs is critical to rebuilding the state’s finances and tackling a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley told state lawmakers Thursday in his first State of the State address since winning a second term in November.

“At the end of the day it’s all about jobs,” Mr. O'Malley said. “To create more jobs we must leverage the power of our diversity, … our geography, and we must harness the energy of Maryland’s economy.”

The Democratic governor, invoking at one point President Obama’s recent “win the future” slogan, said he saw signs of improvement in the state economy, including a fall in the number of home foreclosures. But he admitted the state still faces challenges increasing employment, improving the quality of public education, making college affordable and reducing violent crime.

“The state of our state is stronger that is was two years ago, stronger than it was even a year ago,” Mr. O'Malley contended in remarks to the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly, “but better isn’t good enough.”

But given the current economic situation, the governor warned that the state education budget will face some tough choices and cuts in other state programs — “nearly $1 billion more” — are likely.

The people of Maryland “must get more out of every dollar,” Mr. O'Malley said.

The governor said he wants to reduce the size of government by more than 4,000 positions to a level lower than it was four years ago.

But Maryland Republicans, in the minority in both houses of the state legislature, countered that Mr. O'Malley’s budget plans — outlined last month — were insufficient to curb the growth of government.

“We expected a budget that was lean, that curbed spending and that addressed our structural deficit,” said House of Delegates Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio in the official GOP response to Mr. O'Malley’s address. Mr. O'Malley’s spending plan, she said, “is not enough.”

Ms. Haddaway-Riccio signaled there were some areas of agreement with the Democratic majority, including pension reform and some of the cuts being contemplated to cut the budget deficit.

The governor, who earlier this week endorsed legislation to impose fines on Pepco and other utilities that fail to meet new state “reliability standards,” took another swipe at the power companies in his address.

“How long do you want to wait in the cold and dark for a deregulated market to solve these problems?” he asked. “Moms and dads deserve better than to sit for days in freezing homes because the power hasn’t been restored.”

Mr. O'Malley plans to answer questions or comments in regards to the address on Twitter and will post answers to questions raised on the state’s YouTube channel as well.