Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce Dinner
May 14, 2008
Let me talk to you a little bit about public safety. Maryland boasts a lot of great things. I think we have the highest number of doctorates of any State per capita, and we ding all sorts of bells on human tests and achievement, but sadly, we’ve also allowed ourselves to be one of the most violent States in the United States -- the fourth or fifth.
But we have now created a tremendous amount of alignment, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while, between our State government and our local governments. As I say this, your county is currently -- thanks to courageous work with your county government, your police officers, and your neighbors, on a year to date basis you have a 10 percent reduction in homicides so far this year.
Your neighbors up in the City of Baltimore are experiencing a 31 percent reduction in homicides. And, you know, for anything that went into it, you know it’s location, location, location, right? Well, we’ve allowed our location to be divided for too long. We’re pushing back.
When Lieutenant Governor Brown and I took our oath of office, we said that that was unacceptable -- we were going to work to save lives in our State. Because in our State, there is no such a thing as a spare Marylander.
We still have a lot of work to do, but we have been able to knock out all those shameful backlogs of 24,000 DNA samples that were supposed to have been taken from people convicted of violent crimes. And just by knocking out that backlog, even before we get to the new law, we were able to solve 61 cases of murder or rape in our State. There are 71 that are under active investigation. So imagine the families that together we’ll be able to save from a tragedy.
There was a 46 percent increase in those CODIS matches. We’ve also gotten parole and probation and juvenile services those assets back onboard to partner with local governments, the crime prevention agencies and departments that they should be.
Strengthening the Prince George’s Business Climate
In addition to improving public safety throughout the State, another one of our priorities, of course, is to strengthen small business. We led the charge to repeal the computer services tax. The only thing worse than making a mistake is not being able to admit you made a mistake. So we admitted we made a mistake and we went back and we were able to repeal that.
Together, because of the tobacco tax, we are going to be able to extend health care coverage to 100,000 people in Maryland. And all of you know why that’s important. One of the costs that’s going up by leaps and bounds every year is the cost of health care for your employees. Part of that is because the number of uninsured in our State has gone up every year. And that, of course, gets pegged into the premiums you pay. So 100,000 more people are going to be able to have health insurance.
We also bring within that a $30 million fund to incentivize small businesses -- that is, businesses of nine or fewer employees -- to join the ranks of the insured. And we’re currently putting that process together and we’ll have more to share with the chamber, with all of us spreading that word to Maryland businesses.
As part of our efforts to strengthen our business, we’ve made several investments in Prince George’s County -- loans, grants and tax credits to do with Comcast to create an advanced services center in Largo. Six hundred employees coming to Largo, Maryland. Incentive packages to Pepco to build a regional facility in Prince George’s and to Capital Lighting to develop 220,000 square foot headquarters facility in Eastgate Business Park.
Not to mention National Harbor and the exciting developments going on all around Greenbelt Metro Station, the purple line. I’m really excited about the East Campus development and what that portends to the future of Maryland. This transit oriented development is the way to go. And I’m going to have a couple more words to say about that in a second.
You know, as we try to integrate the work of your State government and raise the department heads to work together, three of our highest priorities are security integration, sustainability, and workforce creation.
According to Forbes Magazine, we have the third best workforce of any State. Third best workforce in the United States of America. And I know that some of you, as I say that, have taken a deep breath and said, you should see the last ten people I interviewed, right?
We can always get better. We can always get better. We want to be first. But it’s no accident, given the investment that all of you have made in public education, that a national magazine would say that we have the third best public school system in the nation and the third best workforce in the nation. And we need to continue to grow, we need to be number one.
The most valuable asset we have is the talent of our people. Each month I meet with key members of our cabinet to discuss workforce creation. We created and expanded a P-20 council, from pre-kindergarten all the way to post graduate level. So that we try to make sure that we have an education continuum that is responsive to the market needs.
We’ve also made major investments in school construction. Here’s a performance measurement for you, although it isn’t input, but soon it will be: classrooms.
In the first two years of our predecessor’s administration, the State invested only $23 million in school construction in Prince George’s County. In the first 14 months of the O’Malley/Brown Administration, we together have invested $93 million in school construction. (Applause.)
We’ve also made many investments in our community colleges. We have invested a record $150 million in facility improvements in our community colleges. John talked about freezing tuition in our State. Under our predecessors, the cost of college tuition went up 40 percent for in-State kids, and we held it at zero. We hope to hold it at zero for another couple of years, God and the economy willing.
In addition to investing in our workforce, we also are getting back to investing in infrastructure. It’s something that if we compare what the country does on infrastructure, compared to Germany, Japan, India, China, it’s obvious that we have a lot of catching up to do. And that’s true in our State as well.
The interesting and, I guess, the challenging thing about infrastructure is that if you don’t invest in it, nobody sees it for a while. And then you realize, hey, I’m sitting in traffic at the worse intersection in the State because nobody invested 10 years ago to make sure that that was addressed.
Last month I signed legislation to move Maryland to the forefront of national efforts to build a transit oriented development, a strategy to bolster concentrated growth around our Statewide transportation infrastructure -- infrastructure that we, in State government will, in turn, continue to upgrade and improve.
There is enough land available, I am told, for transit oriented development within a half mile of our State’s 112 transit stations to theoretically absorb all of the new residents that Maryland is expecting today and in the next two decades. That’s 1.1 million people, all of whom theoretically could actually be housed and live in the areas that are available through development around our transit stations.
Here in Prince George’s County, where there is a tremendous opportunity to create a new sense of place in so many towns, 14 of our 15 Metro properties have ample room for transit oriented developments. There are nearly 2,800 acres of land available for truly smart and sustainable growth within walking distance of stations and it will allow us to harness our county’s potential.
The University of Maryland is going to be one of those who are teamed with the East Campus development project. And I know it’s hard, these things are complicated. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, God rest his soul, from New York said the problem with urban development is that everything’s connected to everything else. So it’s not always easy, but it is the right thing to do for so many reasons.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to mention the business leaders in this room, to thank them for your forward-looking and acting vision. There’s no reason why places like Capitol Heights can’t be like Friendship Heights, you know, it requires hard work and it requires will, and you can do it.
Our State Transportation, Business and Economic Development departments are working to bring businesses to these sites. We also have been working with our Congressional Delegation to make sure that when the Federal government looks to locate, that they come to Prince George’s County.
As part of our efforts we’re working on reforming WMATA so that we have a more inclusive process for local governments, so that these stakeholders have a voice in what happens around these stations.
And our vision is to develop neighborhoods like those that many of our grandparents lived in, where you know everybody’s name, where you look out for one another.
Finally, I wanted to mention before we open it up to a couple of questions, that our State has been hard hit by the foreclosure crisis. Our State has been hard hit by this national economic crisis that effectively is a building block of middle class stability and growth. It is the first step to the creation of legacy wealth. And right now there’s a record number of our neighbors who are hurting, who are shamed, who are in danger of losing their homes.
We passed one of the most sweeping foreclosure bills in the country, but we still have a long way to go. Hopefully the Federal government will get in this game as well. But we have -- in addition to creating a longer window of time -- it used to be the foreclosure action would only take 15 days in the State of Maryland, that’s been extended now to 150 days. There’s more regular reporting now and there’s reporting of companies to the State Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation. We’re one of the few States that actually licenses them, which made it a little easier for us than some other States.
So we’re doing a lot of outreach and we have a number, 1-877-462-7555.
We’re also offering small no-interest loans that can help some homeowners. You know, it’s a Catch-22, right? They won’t renegotiate the more sustainable mortgage rate with you if you’re behind. Well, you wouldn’t need the more sustainable rate if you weren’t behind. And so for some homeowners we’re hoping that that helps as well.
We need, as a country, to stabilize the housing market because it affects so many things.
You know, Dr. King taught us that human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. That every step towards our goals requires what he referred to as the tireless exertions of passion and concern of dedicated individuals.
They are the dedicated individuals that are seated around each of these tables. And I want to thank all of you for what you do every day. I also want to thank you for your patience. I want to thank you also for your impatience. I want to thank you for the high ambitions that you have for your county, the high ambitions that you have for your State, and most importantly, I want to thank you for having high ambitions for the sort of world that together we can leave to our children’s children. You know, that’s the most important work of all.
I consider myself very lucky and very blessed to be able to serve as your Governor and I promise you, so long as I have this privilege, I’m working to do everything I can to make the right decisions for our long term future. And I trust -- I know -- that the people of our State prefer that better future and you expect nothing less from your elected officials.
Thanks very, very much. (Applause.)