First Click -- Maryland
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010:
State of the State offers a chance to frame election-year debate
Tuesday's State of the State address is not a campaign event, of course. But Gov. Martin O'Malley's speech to a joint session of the Maryland General Assembly, scheduled to begin shortly after noon, offers his best chance to date to frame the debate heading into a challenging election season for Democrats.
With Larry Hogan on Monday abandoning his back-up bid for the GOP nomination, it looks increasingly likely that O'Malley (D) will be running against former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) in November. More fundamentally, though, O'Malley and other Democrats are facing public anxiety over the still-fragile economy and, at least in some quarters, a profound distrust of politicians to do anything about it.
O'Malley must walk a fine line in both Tuesday's speech and going forward. He and his aides believe they have a healthy list of accomplishments to tout: record investments in school construction, a four-year freeze in public university tuition and the lowest crime rate in many years. But none of that sounds particularly impressive to someone wondering where his next paycheck might come from.
So, expect to hear the word "jobs" in almost every sentence O'Malley speaks Tuesday. He has embraced the rhetoric of job creation for a few months now and will call on lawmakers to make that the focus of their 90-day session. From a policy standpoint, that means passing his plan to offer businesses a $3,000 state tax credit for each unemployed worker they hire (a proposal unveiled well before President Obama's $5,000 per-worker federal credit), among other measures that will be ticked off Tuesday.
The speech also offers O'Malley a chance, if he chooses to take it, to address the argument advanced by Republicans and others that his budget proposal merely "kicks the can down the road" -- that he is putting off the tough choices until next year.
Speaking of Republicans, they have chosen Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard) to offer the GOP response. Both O'Malley's speech and Kittleman's response will be broadcast live and again at 7 p.m. on Maryland Public Television.
On Monday, in a likely preview, Senate Republicans mocked O'Malley for choosing to deliver his speech on Groundhog Day. A blog posting referenced the 1993 Bill Murray movie by that name in which the weather forecaster he plays is made to relive the same day over and over.
The Republicans compare that fate to O'Malley's budgeting, which they argue once again "papers over deep deficit spending by one-time transfers, fund swaps and 'found money.'"
"Citizens of Maryland have seen this act before," the blog posting concludes. "Perhaps on Election Day, they will decide that this is a Groundhog Day that they don't ever want to see again."
Of course, Tuesday's speech is not a campaign event.
News You Should Know
Hogan bows out, saying he's convinced Ehrlich will run
"Larry Hogan, who was preparing to seek the Republican nomination if former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. did not run again, announced Monday that he had ended his exploratory bid," writes The Post's John Wagner. "'Not only do I believe that Bob Ehrlich should run, but I am convinced he will run and that we should all push in the same direction to elect him as Maryland's next governor,' Hogan, who held a cabinet-level position in Ehrlich's administration, said in a statement."
Meanwhile, Carmen Amedori, a former delegate and member of the Maryland Parole Commission, announced she is seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, reports Doug Tallman of The Gazette.
Federal budget includes $400 million Medicaid fix for Md.
President Barack Obama's $3.8-trillion budget includes a $25-billion gift to states that Gov. Martin O'Malley already wrote into the state budget proposal he released last month, writes The Post's Ann Marimow. The funding had been part of the House version of national health-care reform. It extends by six months "increases enacted in last year's economic recovery act. The funding includes $376 million for Virginia, $389 million for Maryland and $77 million for the District."
The Post's David Fahrenthold also reports that "the budget would add $13 million for the Chesapeake Bay. Last year, Obama promised an overhaul of an EPA-led cleanup program, which despite 25 years of effort and billions of dollars failed to improve the bay's problems with low-oxygen 'dead zones.'" And, among other good news for Maryland, the budget is "unlikely to mean cutbacks at the Goddard Space Flight Center," writes The Sun's Paul West.
Race to Top allows GOP to challenge O'Malley on education
"Maryland Republicans, angry at what they see as Democratic pandering to teachers unions, are garnering support for changes to legislation, some of which are also pushed for by State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick," writes The Washington Examiner's Leah Fabel. "Maryland was one of 10 states that did not submit an application for a share of $4 billion in Race to the Top funds -- federal dollars to encourage educational reforms popular with the Obama administration. Winning the money depends partly on how well a state's laws support reforms such as more time on the job before earning tenure, teacher evaluations linked to student performance, or "incentive pay" for teachers willing to teach at tough schools. Maryland's laws currently don't support reform trends well. A nationwide study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Maryland an F for its ability to remove ineffective teachers. The Center for Education Reform ranks the state's charter school law as ninth weakest of 41 in the nation."
Legislative hearings ramp up significantly following Tuesday's State of the State address. Here's our first look at bills of interest moving this week in committees:
HJ3: Raises for governor and state office holders.
HB192: Prohibits reading text messages while driving.
HB33: Prohibits manufacture, sale, or distribution of toys or child-care articles containing bisphenol-A.
HB65: Forces mail-order bride companies to check criminal background of those seeking international marriages.
HB3: Requires employers to provide protective body armor to employees who carry firearms loaded with live rounds.
HB92: Governor's job tax credit bill authorizing $3,000 business tax credit for hires off state's unemployment rolls.
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