- - Friday, June 8, 2012


June marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s final concert, a performance before 18,000 fans at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977.

It occurred to me that there are a few similarities - and some noticeable differences - between Presley and a local aspiring political rock star planning his own national ascent: Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Where Elvis had his flailing hips, Mr. O’Malley has his trademark muscle shirts.

Presley famously appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show”;Mr. O’Malley is a frequent guest on “Meet the Press.”

The King had the “Memphis Mafia,” whereas Mr. O’Malley has a loyal band of aides who started with him in Baltimore’s City Hall and followed him to Annapolis.

Elvis started touring in 1954 and never really stopped. Mr. O’Malley’s national ambitions take him all across the country.

Elvis Presley’s motto was “Taking Care of Business.” But looking at Mr. O’Malley’s record, the evidence is clear that he has neglected Maryland’s business climate.

Indeed, small businesses, already suffering because of previous tax, toll and fee increases, high gas prices and a precarious economy, will have to contend with the most recent tax increases rammed through the legislature - bringing the grand total to 24 new tax and fee increases enacted since 2007, taking an additional $2.4 billion a year out of the pockets of struggling Marylanders.

According to the Democrats’ own budget experts, several categories of small businesses are “negatively impacted through increased income tax liabilities” by the tax bill passed during last month’s special session.

Small businesses are the economic engines that keep the nation’s economy humming. Is it reasonable to expect small businesses to create jobs and subsidize a state government that lacks scalability and continues to grow unchecked even during the worst economic times?

As far as job creation is concerned, much work needs to be done. Maryland shed 6,000 jobs in April - the worst jobs performance in the nation - and RG Steel has since announced 2,000 layoffs at Sparrows Point starting in June.

Meanwhile, Virginia - our neighbor and competitor to the south - gained 2,700 jobs in April. Of course, Virginia has been eating Maryland’s lunch for some time. Northrop Grumman, Volkswagen North America and Hilton Worldwide are among the companies who passed on Maryland and chose Virginia.

CEO Magazine ranked Maryland 40th in its 2012 “Best and Worst States for Business” ranking. Virginia ranked sixth. With Maryland’s top income tax rate now at 8.95 percent (it was 7.95 percent when Mr. O’Malley took office) - compared to 5.75 percent in Virginia - Maryland’s reputation among job creators will not improve.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Maryland’s job-creation and -retention crisis, Mr. O’Malley is absent without leadership. That’s because the governor himself is increasingly absent from state affairs.

When the King’s concerts were over, an announcer famously declared, “Elvis has left the building.” Likewise, Mr. O’Malley has left the building - in this case, Maryland’s Statehouse - in search of national venues and audiences.

The governor recently jetted off to campaign events in Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Maine. As workers at Sparrows Point started to receive layoff notifications, he campaigned in New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary in 2016.

Mr. O’Malley’s absenteeism during the 2012 legislative session is often cited as one of the reasons for its train-wreck ending.

According to one published report, Mr. O’Malley spent nearly 40 hours a month tending to Democratic Governors Association business and tasks involving national or international audiences from January through March. Ironically, one longtime O’Malley aide was quoted recently as stating that the governor took over the association chairmanship to “focus on jobs.” Maryland’s own anemic job statistics demonstrate that charity really should begin at home.

Mr. O’Malley is so aggressively in pursuit of his next job that he seems disengaged from his current one. The people who elected him - some of whom need jobs themselves - are paying the price for his ambitions.

Because of this leadership vacuum, no one in government is looking at Maryland’s economic-development liabilities and asking the tough but necessary questions.

Until state leaders in Annapolis show the same passion for growing the private sector as they do for expanding government, losing companies such as Hilton Worldwide to Virginia will be only one of many “Heartbreak Hotel” stories to come.

Larry Hogan, a former state Cabinet secretary, is chairman of Change Maryland and the founder and CEO of a group of companies headquartered in Annapolis.

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