Maryland's economy needs help right now

State leaders are shirking their duty by postponing action to create jobs

October 17, 2011|By Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas

Gov. Martin O'Malley has convened a special session this week to redistrict the congressional maps in Maryland. The news out of Annapolis says that we will not see a "jobs bill" or any other bills to bolster Maryland's economy during the session. If true, the failure of Annapolis to act to reignite Maryland's economic engine in this time of malaise should be part of the first sentence of an indictment charging our state legislators with abdicating their responsibilities.

Americans — including Marylanders — distrust and question big institutions. They see our nation divided economically as never before (with the increasing consolidation of wealth, increasing financial burdens on the middle class, and less opportunities for springing out of poverty). And they feel that everyone in politics — Democrats and Republicans alike — is in the pockets of special and elite interests.

And what is the response to all of this from our leaders in Annapolis? Outrageous gerrymandering of congressional districts.

When I was born, in 1979, I could lay claim to the American birthright: Through hard work and perseverance, I could hope to live better than my parents and grandparents. Does anyone believe that is still true for the majority today? A recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development finds that social mobility between generations is drastically lower in the U.S. than in many other developed countries, including Denmark, Australia and Norway, to name a few.

And the situation is not looking much better in Maryland. Maryland's unemployment rate, 7.3 percent, is inching up instead of down. While many of our public schools are the envy of the nation, we still are failing to equip our kids in every community with the knowledge of science, mathematics and even writing that will allow them to compete on the world stage. For those young adults who are either unwilling or unable to enter the doors of a college or university, we do not have enough manufacturing jobs to provide them with the dignity of a job with good wages and health care benefits.

Even for those who get that college degree, professional jobs are scarce. We're on the verge of losing not just a decade but an entire generation, even in Maryland — a state insulated from some of the worst elements of the recession because of our proximity to Washington and uniquely positioned with great universities and research centers to benefit from a knowledge-based and innovation economy.

So what animates our leaders in Annapolis in this time of economic instability? What do they offer the family with two unemployed parents, the mother who cannot pay her BGE bill, the restaurateur struggling to stay in business with the rising costs of food and health care, and the kid who no longer believes that his future is limitless? Politics as usual.

Action cannot wait until the start of the 2012 General Assembly session in three months. We need a fix-it special session, with big-picture solutions that will not just get Maryland moving now but strengthen our state for the future. Fixing our tax structure for businesses (not increasing gas taxes, as Mr. O'Malley proposed Monday) to spur economic investment and create new jobs might be a start. We need leadership and courage in Annapolis, to overcome the challenges of this moment. Given the national and global trends and the state of politics, we simply cannot continue to put off solutions to study what we know can work, such as regulatory reform — as the governor seems to be doing. After all, his eventual choice for president once told us, "Yes we can."

For all his faults, President Barack Obama was right to suggest that we can right our course. Our federal government is bankrupt, and our state's budget is in crisis year after year, but because our future is tied to the creativity and work of our people — not our government — we can turn things around. We just need the lawmakers in Annapolis to act, to think of Maryland, not themselves.

Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas is a Maryland attorney and former deputy legal counsel to then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His email is

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