Many challenges

Growth, transportation, health are among issues O'Malley will face

What's ahead

November 09, 2006|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,Sun reporter

Growth. Congestion. Rising electric rates. The uninsured.

As governor, Martin O'Malley will face a variety of tricky - and sometimes divisive - issues that matter to companies and consumers alike. And the Democrat will do so with the knowledge that many business leaders favored his opponent.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce's political action committee and the National Federation of Independent Business both endorsed Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for another term.

"It's very clear that the business community loved Governor Ehrlich," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute.

The institute's regular survey of firms showed that the percentage viewing the state as pro-business or business friendly rose strongly during Ehrlich's four years.

The administration change is a bit disquieting for businesses because they "like predictability," said Robert O.C. Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government. When it comes to policies that would affect companies, "I don't believe Mayor O'Malley has been very explicit to date," Worcester said.

But Clinch, who was on a committee that wrote position papers for O'Malley on work-force development issues, thinks the Baltimore mayor "will probably be almost as good for business, if not just as good for business, as an Ehrlich administration."

"He's really proven in the city that he can work with the business community," Clinch said. "The downtown's stronger than in any time in the 12 years that I've been here."

The Greater Baltimore Committee, which does not endorse candidates, is pleased that O'Malley strongly supports expansion of transit, which the civic and business leadership group thinks is critical for economic development. In a GBC questionnaire, O'Malley said that he "will continue to champion" the proposed Red and Green lines in the Baltimore region and wants to add capacity to the crowded MARC commuter train system.

"I think the O'Malley administration ... will look at transit from a different perspective and see it as a major way of moving people," said Donald C. Fry, president of the GBC.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said the governor-elect will ask the business community to do an audit of state government to "maximize efficiencies," just as he did in the city after he was elected mayor in 1999.

O'Malley also will replicate his CitiStat performance management system statewide, Abbruzzese said.

jamie.smith.hopkins @baltsun.com

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