“We all want to be able to pass on this world to our kids, to give them a better opportunity in life,” said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event about fiscal responsibility last Thursday. He discussed Maryland’s fiscal shortcomings prior to his administration, as well as the steps he has taken so far to correct it.
John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, introduced O’Malley, pointing out the financial problems weakening the country and the lessons that can be learned from Maryland.
“Today, Americans are increasingly disillusioned with the state of our nation, and with good reason,” he said. Podesta explained that the deficit this year is projected to reach $482 billion, the highest in history. In addition, household debt is at an all-time high, unemployment rates are increasing, and mortgage foreclosure rates are growing.
Still, Podesta offered a glimmer of hope. “Governors and legislatures have taken the lead and done many things,” he said, citing an increase of the minimum wage and an expansion of health care access. In order to face this fundamental budget challenge, he said, investments in infrastructure, energy, health care, and education must be made.
Podesta held out O’Malley as an example, saying he puts “people above politics” and has been able to restore fiscal accountability in Maryland within 14 months by adopting this approach.
O’Malley discussed the “politics of posterity” in his speech, condemning a national tendency to pass the buck to future generations. Before O’Malley took office, the state had a $40 billion budget shortfall, and the government was carving into public safety, education, and health care.
When O’Malley became governor in January 2007, he had to decide “whether we would allow circumstances to change us or whether we would change circumstances,” he said. Most importantly, he wanted to make government work again.
“It’s a duty we have not only to our neighbors, but to our next generation,” O’Malley said, criticizing collapsing bridges, depleted military, ineffective classrooms, home foreclosures, unaffordable college tuition, and a weakened federal government.
O’Malley focused on three principles that guide his administration: strengthening the middle-class, expanding opportunity, and improving education. Before he took office, $2 billion of expenditures had been locked away from public use. “The chickens of our bad math were coming home to roost,” he said.
O’Malley took steps to reduce expenditures by cutting 700 government positions, closing the Maryland House of Correction, modernizing the tax code, raising the sales tax, and passing Maryland’s first progressive income tax. Although not all of these decisions were popular, 46 percent of Maryland residents found their tax burden reduced, said O’Malley.
In addition, this is the third year Maryland has frozen in-state college tuition in order to increase funding for community college and K-12 education. This also allows Maryland to embark on the largest expansion of health care and work for the health of the Chesapeake Bay, he said.
O’Malley has worked for progressive fiscal responsibility in his term as governor so far, balancing an inherited $1.7 billion structural deficit while making investments to protect Maryland’s priorities.
“By restoring fiscal responsibility, we’re now able to focus on the future again,” O’Malley said. “We’re investing in the talents and ingenuity of our people.”