Hurricane Irene blew political coverage off the media websites, but how chief executives handle a storm can be intensely political.
Irene gave a media boost to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, even as a Baltimore Sun poll released Sunday showed her clobbering her opponents in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. While her opponents struggle for visibility, the mayor was all over the airwaves from Friday on showing her in charge. There was even a live session on WBAL radio in which the often dour mayor was laughing as she joked with news anchors.
Gov. Martin O’Malley was also a constant presence on broadcast stations, and even made it onto “Meet the Press” along with his Republican rivals to the north and south, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
O’Malley noted that 800,000 people were without power, two and half times the number that lost power in last year’s back to back blizzards. (The mayor herself lost power, showing solidarity with the populace.)
Depending on the response, we’ll see whether the utility companies will again become a whipping boy for O’Malley and other public officials as they have in the past.
O’Malley on MLK
Irene washed out the official dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the national Mall, but not before O’Malley could put out a blog post on the late civil rights leader. O’Malley noted that King’s “March on Washington” was originally called “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
O’Malley’s blog took an unusual rhetorical turn when he said: “A job is the root of our freedoms as Americans. Dr. King understood this, asking, ‘What good is the right to sit at a lunch counter if one can’t afford the price of a meal?’
“It is true still today: a job is freedom and freedom is a job.”
This might strike traditionalists as an odd formulation for those who still think liberty is an inalienable right “endowed by their creator” or find freedom rooted in the constitution. Do the retired have no freedom? How about school children?
O’Malley on spending
A Seattle conference caused us to miss O’Malley’s Aug. 20 speech to local officials at the annual Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City. But one assertion leaped out in the press release and prepared text. “You and I have cut more state spending in this five year period than in any five year period in the history of our state .… We’ve cut $6.8 billion.”
The governor’s press office, if not the governor himself, used to be more careful about referring to “reductions in future spending” or “cuts in planned spending.”
Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s last budget for fiscal 2007 ended up costing $28.7 billion and the O’Malley budget the legislature passed in April for fiscal 2012 amounted to $34.2 billion. That’s a 19% increase over five years not adjusted for inflation, which was about 9% for the period.
O’Malley and the legislature were repeatedly forced to reduce spending increases mandated in law when revenues came up short, and much of any increased spending came from federal funds. But O’Malley raised spending at a slower rate than any of the last five governors, mainly because he had no choice.
But since he took office, the total, “all funds” state budget has gone up by $5.5 billion, and a structural deficit of about $1 billion is still looming.
That’s why in the same speech O’Malley said he favored “a balanced approach.”
“We will have to make more cuts, and at the same time — to protect our children’s future — we must [be] open to new revenues.”
O’Malley cited “three primary shortfalls.” Reduced revenues from the general fund due to the recession, a lack of money for transportation projects, and, little noted from the prepared text, a shortfall in the money to upgrade sewage treatment plants. In other words, the flush tax.
An advisory commission in December already recommended a doubling of the flush tax – from $30 per year to $60 year. O’Malley sounds like he’s preparing the way to go along with the recommendation.