- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley stressed the need for tax and spending increases in this year’s General Assembly during his State of the State address Wednesday, drawing mixed reactions from Democrats and admonishment from Republicans.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, reiterated his desire for tax hikes to fund what he considers necessary programs such as education and job-creating infrastructure projects, and he touted his proposals to implement an offshore wind-energy project and legalize same-sex marriage.

During the 33-minute speech, the governor painted an optimistic picture of Maryland as a state rebounding well from the recession, but he said new schools and roads are needed to ensure a brighter future.

“There are costs and there are values,” he said. “We cannot kid ourselves into thinking that by failing to invest in our future we are somehow saving resources.”

Mr. O’Malley submitted a $35.8 billion proposed budget last month that would raise income taxes on many wealthy and middle-class residents, essentially double the so-called “flush tax” and raise taxes on items including cigars and music downloads.

The increases would fund capital projects that he says will improve residents’ quality of life and create more than 50,000 jobs.

The governor also is expected to formally propose that lawmakers institute a sales tax on gas, which would rise to 6 percent over three years and fund road and transit projects.

Sen. James Brochin said he and other Democratic lawmakers are concerned that the governor’s proposed tax increases are too ambitious and that his income-tax hikes dip too deep into the middle class.

Mr. Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat, said lawmakers are most concerned about the gas tax and that tacking on a sales tax to raise already-unpredictable gas prices could be a nonstarter.

“I think it will fail in the Senate,” said Mr. Brochin, who is one of the chamber’s most moderate Democrats. “Leadership is going to be shocked when they see moderate Democrats and some liberal Democrats say, ‘You know what, enough is enough.’ “

Other Democrats acknowledged that Mr. O’Malley proposals are extremely ambitious but said they can be passed in the Democrat-controlled assembly with some work and adjustments.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said the governor is on the right path toward helping residents but will have to lobby tirelessly for his causes during the session, which ends April 9.

“Maryland is doing well, but it could be doing better and the governor wants to make us do better,” said Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat. “These are bold initiatives in very difficult times, and the proof of his work product will be on the final day of this session.”

Mr. O’Malley’s proposals also drew harsh reactions from GOP lawmakers who said he has relied too heavily on boosting revenues rather than cutting spending.

The governor, who must leave office in 2014 because of term limits, said the state has cut $7.5 billion in spending since he took office in 2007.

He has accomplished that largely by limiting projected increases in agency budgets and eliminating some state positions - though overall spending has jumped by nearly $6 billion.

Mr. O’Malley said that about 80 percent of the state’s spending is now focused on education, safety and health, and that further cuts would be harmful.

“I think he laid out the case for why folks are struggling and why we need to continue to be there for them,” said Delegate C. William Frick, Montgomery Democrat. “We’re all out of easy decisions and easy options.”

The governor pitched his budget as a way to put many Marylanders back to work, but House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell called it a “jobs killer” and said there is “palpable anger” from Democratic and Republican lawmakers who don’t want tax hikes.

“He’s telling us that his policies have helped the state when they have hurt the state,” said Mr. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican. “It’s just patently offensive all around.”

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