- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2006

Maryland Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley is to meet Monday with top Democratic lawmakers to craft a legislative package expected to include increased spending on education, health care and transportation.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, wants to “begin talking with lawmakers in earnest about how we start to make progress on these issues,” said a governor’s aide who did not want to be identified speaking about a private meeting.

The governor-elect will not discuss tax increases at the meeting, scheduled to take place at the Loews Annapolis Hotel. However, lawmakers likely will broach the topic, the aide said.

“There’s going to be a lot of people in the room,” the aide said. “It might come up.”

After the election last month restored the Democrat’s almost complete control of state government, some of the party’s top elected officials suggested increasing taxes on cigarettes and gasoline.

Mr. O’Malley has not endorsed proposals for increasing Maryland’s 23.5-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline or increasing the cigarette tax from $1 to $2 a pack. But he also has not ruled out tax increases.

The 90-day General Assembly opens Jan. 10. Mr. O’Malley will be sworn in as governor Jan. 17.

“I think there is a lot of common ground,” said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who plans to attend the meeting.

Other party leaders scheduled to attend include Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. of Prince George’s County, House Speaker Michael E. Busch of Anne Arundel County, committee chairmen and other key lawmakers.

Mr. Barve anticipates legislative leaders will have a better working relationship with Mr. O’Malley than they had with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who lost a re-election bid last month.

“We won’t be hearing about the governor’s agenda by reading the newspaper,” Mr. Barve said. “Our hope has always been that we will be able to sit down with the man and communicate with him away from the glare of the press.”

Mr. O’Malley also is holding a series of meetings with county executives as he drafts a legislative agenda.

He met Thursday with Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, a Democrat.

Meetings are scheduled next week with Democratic county executives Jack Johnson of Prince George’s County, Isiah “Ike” Leggett of Montgomery County and Ken Ulman of Howard County; and Republican county executives David R. Craig of Harford County and John R. Leopold of Anne Arundel County.

“He is making good on his campaign promise to have an inclusive government that works in the spirit of compromise,” said O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

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