Center for American Progress: Fiscal Responsibility
July 31, 2008
The Common Good of Fiscal Responsibility
I want to talk with you, most importantly, about the common good of fiscal responsibility and why I believe that the people that we serve actually have a far greater capacity to embrace, understand and make investments than sometimes we give them credit for. We made absolutely no attempt to hide or to mask the options or the choices that were ahead of us.
Contrary to what might have been well-intentioned public relations advice, rather than rolling the entire package into a Friday holiday afternoon and putting it out at 5:00 p.m., instead we rolled out each of the individual pieces of this fix of fiscal responsibility on individual days over about a 10-day – it’s starting to seem like 10 years – over a 10-day period of time, so that each day we were announcing a different piece so that our colleagues in the media could report it, so that the citizens that we work for could understand piece by piece how it all fit together. We did countless town halls with charts and graphs and lots of questions and answers, all across the State. And by taking these actions, we were able to address a huge deficit that was years in the making.
Two years ago, the rating agencies affirmed Maryland’s AAA bond rating. Maryland is only one of seven states in the nation that enjoys a AAA bond rating: Moody’s, Standard & Poors and Fitch ratings. But the true value of restoring fiscal responsibility really isn’t found in the executive summaries of rating agencies. The true value of restoring fiscal responsibility is found in the progress that we’re now able to make for the common good and that stronger future that all of us prefer.
By restoring fiscal responsibility we are now able to make meaningful investments in what we consider our State’s greatest asset, which is the talents and the brainpower and the ingenuity of our people. As part of these investments, we are now able to hold the line for going into now the third year in a row of freezing in-state college tuition. I don’t believe that there’s another state in the union that is doing that in these tough times.
By restoring fiscal responsibility, we are now able to offer more funding for community colleges, including $150 million more for facility upgrades. We have also increased by 400 percent our investment in adult literacy. By restoring fiscal responsibility, we’re now able to make what is an all-time high investment of $5.3 billion in K-12 education, including a record $741 million in school construction. I see my colleagues here from Charles County nodding their heads. $741 million over two years in school construction so that we can begin replacing those temporary trailers with modern classrooms. That’s more than a 300 percent increase over the comparable period of the former administration.
By restoring fiscal responsibility, we’re now able to embark on one of the largest expansions in health care in our State’s modern history, which will extend health care coverage to 100,000 people that otherwise would have had no coverage whatsoever. By restoring fiscal responsibility, we’re now able to offer incentives to small family-owned businesses and their employees to join the ranks of the insured.
By restoring fiscal responsibility, we have now been able to close the donut hole in that Medicare D prescription drug program for seniors up to 300 percent of poverty. By restoring fiscal responsibility, we’re now able to provide more children with health insurance. We’ve been able to expand access to quality dental care so that we don’t have another sad tragedy like the little boy in Prince George’s County, Deamonte Driver, who died when an infection in his tooth became an infection in his brain. He died because he couldn’t get decent dental coverage or dental care.
By restoring fiscal responsibility, we’re now able to make progress towards improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay. We created and secured funding for a new trust fund for the Bay’s restoration for the first time. Also, in a quarter-century, we updated our Critical Areas legislation that protects us against the damage that could be done by shoreline development.
By restoring fiscal responsibility, we are now also using every single dollar of Program Open Space, get this, for Program Open Space, instead of taking those dollars to plug budget holes, which enables us to protect more rural and agricultural lands. By restoring fiscal responsibility, we’re also going to make investments in public safety. In our State, we had a backlog of some 24,000 DNA samples that should have been taken from violent offenders and analyzed that simply went unanalyzed because we couldn’t afford to do that. We’ve been able to knock out that backlog because we were able to restore fiscal responsibility.
And, finally, by restoring fiscal responsibility, we’re now able to actually focus on the future again, and we announced recently a $1.1 billion investment in the 10 years ahead to expand and grow our life sciences economy in Maryland.
Steady Progress for our Shared Priorities
But what have all of these investments meant for our shared goals? I believe it’s helping us make real and steady progress again towards those shared goals. The Milken Institute recently moved our State’s bioscience ranking from fourth in the country to second in the country. And one of the key reasons, when they looked at nine or 10 different criteria, was the fact that Maryland is investing more in the education, training and skills and development of our human capital than any other state in the nation, more than even Massachusetts. We believe it’s no coincidence that Forbes Magazine said that Maryland has the third best workforce in the country. It’s because Education Week says we had the third best public school system in the country. We invest in the talents and the ingenuity of our people.
We’ve been gratified to see the results paying off. This year, our elementary and middle school students had their best showing ever in the Maryland Student Assessment test with elementary math and reading scores up 29 percent compared to where they were five years ago. We’ve also made real progress in closing the performance gap between African-American and Hispanic students with their white counterparts.
In Baltimore City, elementary and middle school students earned their highest scores in both reading and math since we began testing. Three years ago, 48 percent of our City’s fifth graders scored at least proficient in math. This year, 67 percent are scoring proficient in math.
In the past year, our rate of job readiness as a State has been four times that of the nation. Net exports for the Port of Baltimore are up 32 percent in the first quarter compared to last year. We are tied on the East Coast with Virginia and New Hampshire for having the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
And, you know, our work isn’t done. The work of progress is never done. But we are making progress again. And during the past year and a half, we’ve had to ask our neighbors to make tough choices and, yes, to make tough investments in order to make progress possible again and to hold the line on protecting the priorities that have made Maryland a great State and promises to make us a stronger State in the future. Those are investments in education, and those are investments in our children, investing in our future, expanding health care, investing and being able to pass on an environment in a cleaner condition than when we inherited it. All of these things are the politics of posterity and all of these are the things that make me proudest of the people that I have the honor to be able to serve.
You know, Maryland has a nickname in history. We’re known as the Old Line State. And some people think that that comes from the Mason-Dixon Line. Well, it actually comes from 1776 – from the Maryland 400 volunteers. Volunteers. When Washington’s army was this close to annihilation, less than two months after the Declaration of Independence, and in an indefensible position with Brooklyn Heights – they were faced with overwhelming odds and the British army was closing in around them.
And these 400 Marylanders stepped up into that breach. And there is a plaque to this day over the mass graves of the 256 of them who died so that Washington’s army and the American Revolution could live. And it reads simply this, “In honor of the Maryland 400, who on this day on August 27th, 1776, saved the American army.”
Now, these volunteer soldiers, some of them free black citizens in a still as yet slave-holding country, they fought under a flag that had 13 stars and 13 stripes. But the stars were arranged in a circle, and there was one star in the center, and that star was us – that middle State, that central State, that State around which other states rallied, especially in times of great adversity. That’s the State that we have been, and that’s the State that we are again.
And I really appreciate you coming out here today to talk with me. Thanks. (Applause).