Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) touted his proposals for gun control, wind energy and job creation in his State of the State address Wednesday, drawing on the challenges faced by the state over the past several years to make his case.
“Our story, Maryland’s story, is the story of better choices and better results,” O’Malley told members of the General Assembly. He went on to summarize the state’s achievements under his administration, such as the often-cited No. 1 ranking of the state’s public schools, a minimal rise in college tuition and the near-elimination of a $1.7 billion structural deficit.
In a speech lasting just more than 34 minutes, O’Malley outlined his legislative agenda using familiar themes and rhetoric, such as stressing the importance of making choices — a word he employed more than a dozen times.
Developing offshore wind farms would create jobs, and a ban on military-style assault weapons would save lives, O’Malley said.
The governor also asked lawmakers to act to relieve traffic congestion and support building “a 21st-century transportation network,” despite the fact that a transportation funding proposal was not included in his legislative package.
Last year, O’Malley proposed either adding a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline or a one-penny increase in the overall sales tax to fund transportation projects, but neither proposal moved forward. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) is expected to submit his own transportation funding proposal this week.
O’Malley’s focus on his administration’s record drew criticism from Republican leadership after the speech.
“My overriding impression is that this speech was crafted to polish a legacy that he wants to have, rather than reflecting the reality of what we experience,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), adding that it was the most leftist State of the State speech he had heard from O’Malley.
The most clear example of that, O’Donnell said, was when O’Malley claimed in his speech to have cut more spending than any other administration in modern history — $8.3 billion in total.
“There’s not been a nickel in cuts,” O’Donnell said. “When he came into office, the budget was $29 billion. Now, it’s $37 billion. How is that cutting?”
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Upper Shore) rejected O’Malley’s claims about making tough choices. “This governor has increased sales taxes, income taxes, alcohol taxes, flush fees,” Pipkin said. “[Then] has the nerve to stand up there today and say he’s disappointed he didn’t raise one more tax, and that’s the gas tax.”
Though many lawmakers offered a standing ovation when O’Malley mentioned his proposed assault-weapons ban, two showed their frustration with a theatrical flourish: Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Mid-Shore) and Del. Mike McDermott (R-Lower Shore) tore up a copy of the Second Amendment, which they believe would be violated by O’Malley’s proposals.
O’Malley’s call for repeal of the death penalty also drew applause and praise.
Sister Helen Prejean, a nun from Louisiana and a national advocate for the repeal of the death penalty, said listening to O’Malley gave her hope.
“I’ve been coming in and out of Maryland for 15 or 20 years to talk to people about the death penalty,” Prejean said. “It’s the people who have to get it and talk to their lawmakers. It’s going to come out of Maryland this year.”
Prejean said O’Malley’s speech was a stark contrast to the rhetoric in her native state.
“I come from the Deep South, and you never hear a governor talking about human dignity and green energy and harnessing the wind. They talk about cutting programs, and guns, and they’re proud of it. It’s nice to see that this is America, too.