By Megan Poinski
The same words could be used to describe the state of officials’ reaction to it. Political and civic leaders had a variety of responses to the governor’s 33-minute speech describing the condition and challenges facing Maryland, but they were all strong opinions.
Out of the 18 State of the State Addresses that House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell has heard during his years in the General Assembly, he said, “I’ve never heard one as bad and as partisan. There is palpable anger on both sides of the aisle.”
Everyone who heard the speech wasn’t moved to palpable anger, however. Anger was the farthest feeling from Sen. Richard Madaleno, he said. The speech quickly addressed the issues the state is facing, and finished with a strong reminder that the people of the state are united.
“I don’t know how you could leave without being touched,” he said.
Republicans unanimously derisive
Most of the people who didn’t like O’Malley’s speech were Republicans, who have few good things to say about many of the governor’s initiatives.
“All the governor did today was propose tax after tax after tax,“ said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin. “It shows he’s out of touch with working families in Maryland.”
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil and Harford, agreed that O’Malley is disconnected from the people of the state. Because he lives in the governor’s mansion, Jacobs said he doesn’t have to think of paying the flush tax – proposed to increase in the governor’s budget – and he doesn’t pay for gasoline either.
The Republicans will be pushing back on several of O’Malley’s initiatives, Jacobs said. Proposing new taxes, she said, is “all he knows how to do.”
In his address, O’Malley billed his 2013 budget as a “jobs budget.” Sen. Joseph Getty, R- Baltimore and Carroll counties, did not see how that could be possible.
Taxes called job killers
“There’s such a contradiction between the talk of job creation and the list of all the taxes that are job killers,” Getty said.
O’Donnell was more blunt. “He’s kicking the families of Maryland while they’re down,” he said.
Del. Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick County, said that the governor was focused on the wrong kind of jobs.
There are plenty of jobs in Western Maryland extracting natural gas out of the Allegheny Mountains,” she said. However, Maryland has not yet permitted the hydraulic drilling needed to get that natural gas, and Afzali said O’Malley is standing in the way. The state would create thousands more jobs through drilling than through the wind turbines that O’Malley wants to install, she said.
Del. Mike McDermott, R- Wicomico and Worcester counties, noted that the governor is going to grow jobs with his plan. “He’s going to grow them in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio, but he won’t grow them in Maryland.”
O’Malley also talked briefly about a new tax to fund transportation upgrades. His idea, unveiled early this week on a radio talk show, is to start imposing the 6% state sales tax on gasoline sales. The tax would be phased in over three years, with a 2% increase each year.
A commission that spent a year and a half studying Maryland transportation funding made several recommendations to raise more funds for infrastructure. The commission’s top recommendation was to establish a legal “lockbox” that would make it so that money can only be spent on transportation.
O’Malley has not formally proposed the tax, but he did say on the radio that he would be willing to establish a “lockbox.”
“He can say whatever he wants,” said Neil Parrott, R-Washington. “[O’Malley] said the Transportation Trust Fund was already in a lockbox, but money has been taken out of the account and thrown into the general fund every year he’s been in office.”
Harford County Executive David Craig, a Republican, was not optimistic about where the money would go. He said this money won’t go to highways and bridges, but to the Purple and Red lines, proposed transit systems for the DC and Baltimore suburbs.
Del. Cathy Vitale, R-Anne Arundel, said that she had hoped to hear more details about the governor’s agenda, since that is what the people want to hear.
“That was a great national campaign speech,” Vitale said.
O’Donnell agreed, saying that having ambassadors from Mexico, Ireland, South Korea and Japan at O’Malley’s State of the State Address makes it clear that the governor is more concerned with his national stature.
“Great speech,” Democrats say
Most Democrats roundly praised O’Malley’s speech.
“It was a great speech, and what we needed to hear,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery. He said that he felt the governor addressed not only economic issues, but the dignity of individuals and the push for equality
Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat who is gay, said that he was pleased to hear the governor’s call for equality for same-sex couples. O’Malley is the primary sponsor of this session’s bill to grant same-sex couples the right to marry, and testified before the Senate committee considering the bill on Tuesday.
However, Madaleno’s favorite part of the speech was when the governor shined a light on some of the economic issues the state faces, and what must be done to correct them.
House Speaker Michael Busch said that the governor’s speech was straightforward. He used the opportunity to say what he needed to do, why he needed to do it, and why making tough choices has paid off for the General Assembly in past years. With so many thorny issues, Busch said there were a lot of hard things for O’Malley to address.
“I don’t think he avoided any of them,” Busch said. “He addressed his transportation package. He was straightforward with his support for civil marriage. He went about without kind of taking issue with anyone else.”
Del. Stephen Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, said that since the governor’s bills are just now getting to the General Assembly, it is highly unlikely that they will look the way they do now at the end of the session.
Lawmakers will find “a different way to get to the same thing,” Lafferty said.
If no new taxes, more cuts must be made
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton said that the Republicans can easily pooh-pooh O’Malley’s proposals, but they should give solid options.
“If you’re not going to do the taxes, where are you going to do the cuts?” he asked. Middleton said that he would like to see the Republicans come up with an alternative budget proposal, as they have for the last few years.
Del. Curt Anderson, D- Baltimore City, said that the increases in tax on gas concern him and others.
“There is 23 cents a gallon already on the gasoline tax,” Anderson said. “It raises millions and millions of dollars that can do the things they claim need to be done now…the streets, roads, and bridges can be refurbished under existing funds.”
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said there are concerns, but transportation infrastructure in local governments is suffering.
“We’re down to almost zero local aid,” except for the money that goes directly to the school system, Ulman said.
Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, said that it’s a good time to make infrastructure improvements. Many people can get behind another portion of O’Malley’s proposal, he said: higher taxes on people who make more money.
“I think the average middle class family supports that,” he said.