O'Malley's marathon

January 25, 2007

At the risk of invoking a football analogy in the midst of pre-Super Bowl hype, a team determined not to lose the big game rarely wins. Gov. Martin O'Malley's agenda appears to be just such a no-lose game plan. How can we tell? When both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature have only nice things to say, you know the governor's bills are about as daring as rice pudding with raisins on the side.

Mr. O'Malley announced this week his support for a package of 13 bills, the most controversial of which would require new cars to meet California emissions standards. That's a measure already endorsed by the House and Senate leadership. The question now is whether it will pass by a landslide or by just an overwhelming majority.

The rest of the governor's middle-of-the-road agenda should fare as well. Legislation to improve government efficiency (the StateStat program) is certainly sensible. So is freezing tuition at Maryland's public schools of higher education (provided adequate state funding is available) after the sizable tuition increases of the last term. The modest health care initiatives aren't likely to generate much opposition, either.

Granted, the governor has a decent argument for his go-slow approach, particularly on budget matters. He says his four years are a marathon, not a sprint. That's acceptable reasoning for, say, raising - or broadening the application of - the state sales tax, a possible solution to the state's fiscal woes. But he has been campaigning to be governor for years; when is a slow start too slow?

During his first session, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sought to put slot machines at the racetracks. Parris N. Glendening was talking about a major cut in the income tax within days of taking office. William Donald Schaefer hit the ground running with ambitious plans to rescue a major employer in Western Maryland and to build baseball and football stadiums at Camden Yards.

Here are some of the causes Mr. O'Malley didn't pick up: closing the loophole in Maryland's ban on workplace smoking to include all restaurants and bars, raising the tobacco tax to pay for health coverage for thousands of uninsured people, putting an end to capital punishment, and creating a so-called green fund to finance local pollution controls, waterway by waterway, to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay. He might have at least championed campaign finance reform.

We would not advocate that the governor be impulsive. He's been there, done that as mayor. But Mr. O'Malley can't stay on the sidelines on these and other important issues for long - not if he expects to produce a winning term.

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