OCEAN CITY — Against the backdrop of a picture-perfect August afternoon full of promise in Ocean City, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley last Friday delivered the keynote address to the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) at the close of its annual convention in the resort painting a grim picture of what lies ahead for the state in the coming months and years.
Earlier last Friday, O’Malley cut the ribbon on a new visitor’s center in Berlin, helped kick off the opening of a new craft brewery in the same town and lifted the first shovel of dirt on the latest expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, all projects with significant economic ramifications in the area. When it came time to address representatives from all over Maryland with his keynote address at the MACo convention, the governor’s message was decidedly more dire.
“I wish I could tell you that the choices we have to make this year will be easier, but they won’t,” he said. “While we do anticipate revenues to exceed original projections in both fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013, our projected budget shortfall for fiscal year is approximately $1 billion, even with one of the nation’s smallest and leanest state and local government bureaucracies.”
In his address, O’Malley essentially warned Marylanders to begin preparing for more cuts to state services and programs, along with a closer look at new tax increases.
“To move Maryland forward, we have to make more cuts, and at the same time, we have to be open to new revenues,” he said.
O’Malley’s speech came on the heels of the Department of Labor’s latest jobs report for Maryland released just a day earlier. While the news was generally good with Maryland adding over 10,000 new jobs during July, the governor continued to assert the creation of even more jobs, both in the private and public sectors, was the key to the state’s economic recovery.
“In all of the many difficult decisions we have to make as a people, job creation must be our number one priority, always,” he said. “There is nothing more important for a family than a good job with decent wages and decent benefits. Indeed, no government program is as empowering for a family than a job.”
O’Malley said his administration has had to make tough decisions over the past five years while cutting 46.8 billion in spending and reducing the size of government. However, none of the cuts has done more to stabilize the state’s economy then the creation of new jobs.
“There are no amount of tax cuts that can substitute for a job,” he said. “There is no better way to expand opportunity, to grow our economy, and to strengthen and grow the ranks of an increasingly diverse middle class than by creating and saving jobs. And the most important job we create is the next job.”
O’Malley said the annual MACo convention in Ocean City provides the perfect platform for representatives from around the state to discuss and debate where Maryland is going and how best to get there.
“Every year for the last five years, we’ve come together here at MACo to talk about the tough choices necessary to move our state forward through very difficult times,” he said. “None of these years has been easy, but we have fared better than most states because of our ability to come together with a balanced approach every year, time and time again.”
O’Malley said the same cannot be said about many states, or the federal government, where partisan bickering nearly derailed the nation’s economy earlier this month.
“There’s a sense in our country that as a nation we’ve lost our direction and we need to become redirected,” he said. “There’s a sense that we’ve lost our balance and we need to rebalance. And there’s a sense that we’ve become disconnected from one another, and from the future we aspire to give to our children, and we must become reconnected.”
The governor called on county and local government representatives to continue to work together as partners toward a thriving Maryland economy.
“I want to talk with you about direction, about balance, and about connection,” he said. “Because in order for Maryland’s businesses to create jobs, Maryland’s state, county, and municipal governments have to do their jobs.”
O’Malley also pointed out despite cuts in federal spending in Maryland, the state would have to continue to nurture its partnership with the federal government.
“Maryland is not an island, we are all a part of a greater nation,” he said. “Her destiny is ours, her challenges are ours, her future is our future. Her work is our work. There is a lot of noise in our country right now. A lot of things distracting us from what must remain our top priority of creating jobs.”
In closing, O’Malley urged MACo representatives in attendance to embrace the good and jettison the bad in the current economic climate.
“We can choose to be bitter about what we’ve lost, or we can focus on what we have the ability to do together, to create jobs, to expand opportunity; to redirect, to rebalance, and to reconnect ourselves to the better economic days and the stronger future we desire for our children,” he said.