O'Malley pledges to work with local governments

January 05, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,sun reporter

CAMBRIDGE -- Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley pledged last night to work cooperatively with local government officials to improve the state's education and transportation systems, foster economic development and protect the environment.

Speaking to local elected officials and government workers at the Maryland Association of Counties winter conference, O'Malley, the Baltimore mayor, said he knew well what challenges county governments face and would seek input from them in developing his agenda for the state.

O'Malley said the state will face challenges in the next four years, particularly because of projected budget shortfalls of $1 billion or more annually. But he said they can be overcome.

"You know when a tough election is over, when the newspaper headlines stop talking about the big, historic budget surplus and start talking about the big, scary budget deficit," he said. "Deficits and the size of deficits may determine the speed with which we move forward together, but they don't determine whether we move forward together."

County government officials can be sensitive to changes in Annapolis, because they receive a large share of their budgets from the state. During previous tough budget times, counties have taken severe hits, being forced to take on financial burdens and losing funding.

O'Malley has made a point early in his transition to meet with the county executives of Maryland's six largest counties, including the Republican heads of Harford and Anne Arundel.

O'Malley said one thing he has enjoyed about local government is the relative unimportance of partisan politics - party affiliation has had nothing to do with his management of Baltimore, because all elected officials from the city are Democrats. He said he has learned the value of compromise and will bring that spirit to Annapolis.

"In our Maryland, compromise is not a dirty word," O'Malley said. "It's how free and fair people ... come together to find a common good."

The governor-elect announced that Josh White, who was his campaign manger, will be his head of inter-governmental relations. He did not give many specifics on policies he will pursue to help the counties, but he said Jan Gardner, incoming president of MACO and president of the Frederick County board of commissioners, suggested that he didn't need to say much to reassure the local officials.

"She said, `Why don't you just get up there and say, `More money for open space, more money for transportation, more money for schools, goodbye and good night,'" O'Malley said. "I should have said that."

andy.green@baltsun.com

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