As the race for the State House winds to a close – with less than a week to Election Day – time for Gov. Martin O'Malley is whizzing by. He's almost daily crisscrossing the state, talking with voters and still attending to his job as governor.
Sitting down to his first meal out of the last 10 to be eaten somewhere other than in the car, he was tired, but focused and enthusiastic about the future of the state.
"These next two decades can be Maryland's decades," he said, "if we make the right choices that allow us to make this transition to the new economy and be one of the winners in the new economy."
He doesn't claim it will be easy or that results will come immediate or even quickly. "I'm grateful the president acted as quickly and courageously as he did," he said, referring to the federal stimulus dollars that flowed to the state for a variety of initiatives. Acknowledging that money was not intended to permanently sustain the state and that Maryland was able to stretch those dollars to impact the economic picture here for a longer period of time, he said economic recovery was more stubborn than expected. "There's going to be tough days ahead," he said. "There's a change that is coming as the recession comes to a close and our president moves us out of this ditch – and winners of that change will be those states that improve upon the talents, skills and education levels of their people."
Maryland should come out ahead, he said, because his administration has been making those offensive moves needed be ready. Among those are: increased investment in public education, freezing college tuition four years in a row, hitting an all-time high in minority business development dollars, moving up in the bio-technology rankings and consolidating NSA's Cyber Command in Maryland.
Talking more about public education, Gov. O'Malley said, "Our kids are not disappointing us." Adding that they are responding to increased improvements in education by delivering test scores and achievements levels that are at an all-time high, he emphasized the need to continue improving, because Maryland’s children have to compete globally.
As always it comes down to money. And how the state can increase revenue leads to a discussion about slots. "They are important dollars. I would love to have those dollars," said O'Malley. "But I'd rather do it right than do it right now."
He added that while gaming revenue was added to a list of solutions to the state’s budget issues during the special legislative session held his first year in office, "it was only a part."
Getting people to work generates revenue also and O'Malley is working on that in conjunction with improving educational opportunity. He said this year is Maryland’s best new job creation year since 2000, adding 36,400 new jobs. But that in that same period of time, the state lost 79,000. "We're not back to where we were," he said.
But that has not stopped the work. O'Malley's administration has just completed, he said, a public-private partnership for the Port of Baltimore that will be bringing 5,700 jobs to the area. The expansion of the port to accommodate the bigger ships that will be able to come through the Panama Canal can make Maryland "a winner in global trade," he said.
The governor said an additional GM product line was attracted to Maryland, which will bring 300 direct and 500 indirect jobs to the state. Also, Maryland has added its own tax credit – distinct from the federal tax credit – for businesses that hire workers off the unemployment, in another effort to increase jobs in the area.
O'Malley believes the state is moving in the right direction, which seems to be his prevailing message. He said, "The future is always in front of us. … You've got to create a new day."