Shalom … Thank you for inviting me to join you at your annual meeting tonight. To all the elected officials who are with us tonight, thank you for your continued leadership for our One Maryland. It’s really a pleasure to be among friends. I’d like to single out Clair Zamoiski Segal, the outgoing president of the council, for a very a successful term.
Jon Laria Tribute
And of course, I want to congratulate my dear friend Jon Laria on his election. Jon and I are longtime friends – and I stress “longtime” because Jon’s a superdelegate, so I think a lot of new friends are coming out of the woodwork these days.
Jon, as many of you know, served on my transition team and was an important part of our efforts on housing and community development. As it turned out, these efforts became more important than any of us realized at the time.
His work helped lay the groundwork for our State’s efforts to address the national foreclosure crisis – today our State is leading the way nationwide, and in recent weeks, I signed what the Washington Post said were some of the most sweeping reforms in the nation.
At present, Jon chairs our Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development. This task force is studying a wide range of smart growth and land use issues effecting our State – helping us build a more sustainable future for our children and their grandchildren.
I also owe Jon a personal debt of gratitude for helping introduce me to the State of Israel. He traveled with me to Israel when I was Mayor, and along with a few others who are with us tonight, Jon will be traveling with me to Israel in just a few days. (I’ll be talking a bit more about this trip and what it means to all of us in Maryland in just a few moments).
Jon has dedicated his life to tikkun olam, and in so doing, he’s embodied the notion that every individual can make a difference, and all of us must try. Among the many ways Jon gives back to his community …
- He chairs the Public Policy Board at the University of Maryland
- He serves on Mayor Dixon’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Taxes and Fees
- He’s the immediate past-president of the Live Baltimore Home Center
- He’s a former president of the Hopkins’ Alumni Association in Baltimore …
And as of today, he’s the President of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
You know, back in 2002, the Baltimore Business Journal named Jon one of Baltimore’s “40 Under 40” – identifying him at the time as an “emerging leader.” I think it’s fair to say that Jon has “emerged.”
Good Economic News
I wanted to offer a few words about some of our shared priorities, and then I’ll open the floor for some Q&A.
What a tremendous year this has been. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to read David Conn’s quote in the Baltimore Jewish Times a few weeks back, when he called this past legislative session the most successful in the history of the Alliance. It’s great to open the newspaper and read something nice – I could get used to this.
Continuing with this theme of “good news,” as you prepare to plan for the year ahead, we have some encouraging economic signs that suggest our State is climbing out of the national economic downturn quicker than other states.
For all the difficulties our economy has experienced nationwide, Maryland’s job growth over the past 12 months has been four times greater than the nation as a whole. And we’ve exported 32% more goods over the first quarter of this year.
And some more good news: the unemployment rate in Maryland is 26 percent lower than the national unemployment rate.
So for all the dour news nationally, we see very encouraging signs in our State.
And again, we’ve had an encouraging session. Towards the end of last year, we met with members of the Maryland Jewish Alliance who identified some clear, shared priorities and goals for the upcoming session – healthcare, housing, protecting our environment, quality of life for our seniors, Iranian divestment.
And working together, we’ve made real progress for …
- Senior housing on the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center campus
- Additional investments in Sinai Hospital
- $75,000 for refugee resettlement, as we were all once “strangers in a strange land”
- A 50 percent increase in funding for the Maryland/Israel Development Center
- And, additional funding for the Jewish Museum of Maryland, the Gordon Center for Performing Arts and Baltimore Hebrew University
We’ve also made real and steady progress toward several of our other shared priorities.
- We’re making historic investments in our children’s education. In the previous Administration’s first two years, they invested only $23 million in school construction in Baltimore City and $23 million in Baltimore County. In the first two years of the O’Malley-Brown Administration we’re investing $94 million in school construction for Baltimore City and $93 million in Baltimore County.
- We’ve also held the line on college tuition for three years in a row – which, as the father of two teenage girls, I admit to having a personal stake in. During the previous administration, in-state tuition increased by 42%.
- We’ve closed the donut hole in the Medicare prescription drug program, helping our seniors, and expanded health care coverage to 100,000 additional Marylanders.
- We’ve made real progress for our environment, creating the Chesapeake 2010 Trust Fund to help restore the health of our Bay, fully-funding Program Open Space, and positioning ourselves at the forefront of national efforts to promote alternative energy and conservation.
And, we’ve helped restore fiscal sanity to our State government. You can’t have a working government if you’re not fiscally responsible – it’s an undervalued American value, in my opinion.
There’s a classic Groucho Marx routine in which he passes a restaurant bill over to his dinner companion and declares “this bill’s an outrage … and if I were you, I wouldn’t pay it.” Far too often in our resent history as a State and as a nation, we’ve been like Groucho Marx at the dinner table, but instead of passing the bill across the table, we’ve passed it on to the next generation.
But working together as One Maryland, we’ve been able to restore some fiscal sanity to our State government. We’ve come together and nearly closed the $1.7 billion structural deficit we inherited, retained our Triple A Bond rating, and left a cash balance of nearly $1 billion – all while protecting our priorities.
Iran Divestiture and Israel
Last week, I signed what this Council has referred to as the strongest Iranian divestiture legislation anywhere in the country. So many of us grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. We don’t want our children and grandchildren – or Israeli children – to grow up in the shadow of a nuclear Iran. Prime Minister Olmert told me personally about the importance of this legislation when I met with him at Government House this past fall.
I’ll be meeting with the Prime Minister again in just a few days – this time in Israel – and I’ll be giving him a proclamation honoring the State of Israel on its 60th birthday. During my first trip, we focused on homeland security. This trip will focus on healing – biomedical technology.
Israel, I am told, exports more life saving technologies on a per capita basis than any other country in the world – embodying the beautiful Talmudic principle that “the highest form of wisdom is kindness.”
As Israel develops these “weapons of mass salvation,” to borrow a phrase from Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, what a great model this is for our State, as we seek to grow our own creative economy.
There has always been a special bond between Maryland and Israel. From the early days of the Exodus, which set sail from our shores on a mission to save lives – to today, when we are working together on life saving technologies.
I also wanted to mention that I plan to make my second visit to Yad Vashem during this trip. The haunting memories from my first visit have had renewed meaning this month, with the recognition of Yom Hashoa.
Given the significance of this month, when Israel celebrated her 60th, I wanted to close with some words from Theodore Herzl who said that “dream and deed are not as different as many may think.”
I think it’s a phrase that we need to remind ourselves of, especially at this point in our American history.
Because we’ve had the courage to reach for the most important dream of all – a better future for our children and their grandchildren – we’ve made significant progress for the people of our One Maryland.
With your help, your hearts, your leadership, passion and determination, we will continue to accomplish great things in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.
Thank you for all that you do. Congratulations on a successful year, and best wishes for continued success. Shalom.