O'Malley to renew themes

State house speech is expected to touch on middle class, fiscal challenges

January 31, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Returning to the themes of his campaign, Gov. Martin O'Malley plans to talk about strengthening the middle class, while addressing looming fiscal challenges in his first State of the State address today, according to administration officials.

The speech, which was to be delivered at noon to a joint session of the General Assembly, will emphasize how issues such as education, public safety, health care and the environment relate to a strong and growing middle class.

O'Malley's aides see today's speech as a way to tie together issues from the inaugural address, the budget and his legislative agenda - all of which have come over the past two weeks - and offer a clear vision for his new administration.

Traditionally, first-year Maryland governors have not delivered State of the State speeches, in part because their tenure is considered insufficient to give such an assessment. Instead, their inaugural addresses have outlined their policy goals.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state's first Republican governor in more than 30 years, chose to address the General Assembly his first year. It largely followed his State of the Union address, highlighting Marylanders who were emblematic of his policy priorities.

Ehrlich roiled Annapolis two years ago by demanding lawmakers show him more respect. In the end, the speech fueled the partisan divide in the capital.

Much of O'Malley's first weeks in office have focused on renewed cooperation, including reaching out to Republicans. Maryland is facing long-term budget shortfalls, and few policies to address those gaps have been put forth thus far.

A copy of the text was not made available yesterday.

Del. Kumar P. Barve, the House majority leader, said he hopes O'Malley continues to stimulate cooperation between the administration and the General Assembly.

"I'm very comforted by the fact that he's working collaboratively with the legislature, and I hope he establishes a vision for working with us over the next four years on the budget and education," said Barve, a Democrat from Montgomery County.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority leader, said the state has been well positioned by Ehrlich, but needs answers to looming fiscal issues.

"The past four years have put the state in very solid shape and positioned to do well in the future," he said. The structural deficits facing the state have been predicted, O'Donnell said, and should not be balanced by tax increases.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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