- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Martin O’Malley was sworn in yesterday as Maryland’s 61st governor, returning the state to one-party rule and setting the stage for budget negotiations likely to dominate his first year in office.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat twice elected mayor of Baltimore, took the oath of office shortly after noon, ending four years of divided government between the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

In a speech delivered in front of the State House, Mr. O’Malley, 43, focused on unity and compromise in addressing looming budget issues, improving health care access and cleaning up the environment. However, he offered no specifics and little insight into his legislative agenda.

“We have choices to make as one Maryland: Choices about our future, choices between the perils and possibilities of our present,” Mr. O’Malley said.

One of the choices will be how to reduce an estimated $413 million deficit the state faces in fiscal 2008 and a structural deficit of more than $5 billion over the next four years. A structural deficit is the situation in which projected spending exceeds projected revenue.

Mr. O’Malley is set to release his proposed budget tomorrow and release some details today. He has not announced whether he plans to increase taxes or cut spending to address the deficits, though he has pledged to increase school construction funding to $400 million.

State Republican leaders said they were looking forward to working with the new governor but were skeptical about the budget matters.

“We like hearing some things, like the focus on safety and security,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick County Republican. “Our concern is how we pay for a lot of this stuff.”

Maryland Republican Party Chairman James Pelura III was more critical.

“After many expensive campaign promises, this administration suddenly appears without any direction,” he said. “These are troubling signs from O’Malley.”

More budget details are likely to emerge when Mr. O’Malley delivers his State of the State address in two weeks.

Yesterday, Mr. O’Malley highlighted clean energy, increased energy regulation, more funding for higher education and the return of Smart Growth — the signature, anti-sprawl initiative of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, also a Democrat.

Anthony G. Brown, who was sworn in as Maryland’s second consecutive black lieutenant governor, also appealed for unity among state lawmakers.

“Progress requires partnership,” said Mr. Brown, a former Prince George’s state delegate, “partnership that understands that compromise is not easy.”

Former Maryland leaders also offered their advice to the new governor.

“Make sure to talk to lots of people,” said former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who left the State House with Mr. Ehrlich, his wife and former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Mr. Ehrlich defeated Mrs. Townsend in the 2002 gubernatorial race.

Mr. Ehrlich suggested Mr. O’Malley build on the work he accomplished during the past four years.

“I was very proud of the work we did … particularly given the circumstances we inherited,” he said.

Mr. Ehrlich also faced a budget deficit when he took office.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat and a native of Baltimore, advised Mr. O’Malley to “be himself” when governing.

Former U.S. Senate candidate and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat, said Mr. O’Malley should “follow his heart and remember the things that got him to where he is now.”

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