- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday that Maryland is better positioned than most states to survive the recession, sounding an optimistic note in his State of the State speech.

“The road is steep, but our legs are strong,” Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said in the face of a $2 billion shortfall and his austere budget proposal, which includes laying off 700 state employees.

Mr. O’Malley also described President Obama’s economic stimulus plan as a crucial source of aid and said his budget “will be a better … by the time it’s up for final consideration in April.”

Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Dorchester Republican, questioned whether Mr. O’Malley is too focused on federal help: assuming $350 million in federal aid for the fiscal 2010 budget and deferring about $56 million in planned cuts for the current fiscal year.

“We need to tighten our budget now - smaller budget, lower taxes - and work through these tough problems, because I don’t think any economist can tell you when we’re going to come out of this recession.” Mr. Colburn said.

Offering evidence that Maryland will fare better than other states, the governor pointed to the state’s superior bond rating and decisions in the 2007 General Assembly special session that resulted in $1.4 billion in tax increases.

Mr. O’Malley said he receives letters every day from residents who tell him the challenges of paying for college, rising electricity bills and keeping their homes.

He read a letter from an Allegany County woman who wrote that her landlord told her she would be asked to move if her electricity is turned off. She asked the governor “what can you do to prevent my son and I from becoming homeless due to electricity?”

Mr. O’Malley asked lawmakers to help provide $132 million in energy assistance for more than 125,000 residents who are struggling to pay their heating bills and to extend health care coverage to more families.

“Our great challenge for this session is to redouble our efforts, doing all that we can to stand up for Maryland families and power through the other side of this recession ahead of every other state,” he told the General Assembly in a speech lasting nearly 30 minutes.

Mr. O’Malley urged legislators to make people eligible for unemployment benefits when they are relying on part-time jobs to feed their families.

He also cited economic reasons in calling on lawmakersto bring a bill seeking to repeal the death penalty to a full vote in the House and Senate. The bill has stalled in a Senate committee for two years.

A study of capital punishment by a state commission concluded it is significantly more expensive to bring capital cases through the legal system than to seek life in prison.

“We could have even more resources to accomplish all of these important lifesaving goals if you would follow me in abolishing an outdated, expensive, and utterly ineffective death penalty in the state of Maryland,” said Mr. O’Malley, who also mentioned that there were 66 fewer homicides in Maryland but not a single execution in the state last year.

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