MACO Winter Conference Keynote
January 8, 2009
Thank you very, very much, it’s really terrific to be with all of you and on the beautiful Eastern Shore of Maryland. I want to say right off the bat how appreciative I am of the professionalism of this organization as exemplified by the engagement and the energy of one of the best county executives in the United States of America, Jim Smith.
Jim, I really appreciate your candor. I appreciate your honesty, and most of all, I appreciate your engagement. Jim knows that in the O’Malley-Brown administration, MACo is always invited in and that we do need your feedback in order to be able to serve our people to the best of our ability. So, Jim, thank you for being engaged.
I don’t know if they give a prize for the most counties visited in one term. If they do, it’s probably Jim Smith. He was ahead of us on Capitol For a Day by about several counties and notwithstanding the other events that he has in his full-time day job. Jim, thank you, you’ve done a terrific job for this organization.
Jan Gardner, thank you for all the countless meetings that you’ve gone to on the Growth Task Force. Thank you, really, to all of you for being involved.
I started this morning, headed across the river into Virginia to hear our new President, Barack Obama, speak about an issue which I know is on the minds of each and every one of you. On the way over there, I was reading letters, as you all get the same type of letters, from the people who you work for and the courageous, hardworking diverse people who we serve.
And the letters were enough to make you cry. I’m sure you all have been reading these yourselves in your offices, about people that are working hard every day, they play hard -- but they play by the rules. They extended themselves in the faith and hope. You know, they got themselves into homes where they were proud, their kids could come down in the morning for breakfast with a roof over their head, and they thought they were doing all the right things. And then all of a sudden, this rug gets pulled out from under them. And through absolutely no fault of their own, they find themselves backsliding. They find themselves taking on two and three jobs, and I don’t know how some of the people writing to me manage to do it.
And then at the end of that drive I found myself at George Mason University in Virginia and listened to Barack Obama speak about the urgency of this new American Recovery and Reinvestment plan, which Frank Kratovil and the rest of our delegation will soon have the opportunity to support in the halls of Congress. And I was there with Governor Tim Kaine and Governors of Michigan and Wisconsin and other states that, quite frankly, are hurting a lot worse than ours are. If you look at the macroeconomics of states.
But I’m hopeful and I’m optimistic because I believe that this remarkable man (and he is a man, you know, he is not immortal, he doesn’t have supernatural powers, he won’t turn things around in one day, there is no magic wand in the Oval Office anymore than there’s one in the Wye Oak desk),… but I believe that he knows that the most important asset we have is our people, is their spirits, their grit, is there determination and their resilience. And it’s that determination and resilience that all of you read yourselves in those letters that people send to you.
So, this is probably one of the most serious economic crises that our country has gone through in many, many, many decades. But I firmly believe that we’re going to get through it, and we’re going to get through it the way that we’ve always been able to overcome great adversity in the past. And that is by realizing that we’re all in this together and that the greatest days in life are not the easy days; they’re the hard days. And for all of you who serve in local government and do these tough jobs, you certainly know what I’m talking about. Some of the days that you feel the most gratified and that you feel the best about the hard day that you spent was because you know that it’s making for a better tomorrow, even if the people you serve at the time might not understand at the time. You know you have the ability to do that. So, we’re going to have some of the best days of our lives in the years ahead.
And it will not be easy days. But I feel honored and I feel blessed that we’re able to battle in this together. And I thank you, Jim, for recognizing a couple of the strong women. We try to surround ourselves with as many strong women as we can find in the O’Malley-Brown administration. I want to thank you for recognizing Margaret McHale and Lisa Jackson for their good work. And let me say back at you, we all recognize your good work, which is why you’ve always had an open door in this Administration and why you always will, why you will get bills and grab bills from us before we lock down ourselves on exactly what we want to do on important issues that are facing us.
And we’re united. We’ve got a stake now in our belief in the dignity of every individual and our belief in our other responsibility to advance the common good, especially in these tough times. And with all the economic diversity, folks, our goals are the same now as they were in the good times. It’s harder now, but our goals are the same, to strengthen and grow and, yes, in these times, defend the ranks of an upwardly mobile middle class, including our family-owned businesses and our family farms. It’s to improve public safety and public education in every part of our State, and to expand opportunity.
That’s our mission statement, and we’re going to stick to it. And we’re in a better position to stick to it because of the tough decisions we’ve already made, tough decisions that everybody in this room helped us to make. And I really want to thank you.
Look at the numbers that California is dealing with in their shortfall. Look at the numbers that New York is dealing with in their shortfall. If we hadn’t done what we have done, I don’t know what we would do. I mean, as difficult as this $1.9 billion shortfall is next year, thank goodness it’s not $3 billion instead or more.
You know, when I woke up this morning, and it’s part of my daily duties, usually, if I don’t have to be fighting traffic to get someplace, I usually get to take my six-year-old son, Jack, to daycare,… best time of the morning. This morning, I went to wake him up in his bed, went back the second time, turned up the TV, and I’m going back in to shave, and I hear this, “Dad, Dad!” I go in, I look and I say, what’s the matter? And he says, “I fell asleep with silly putty and I can’t get the pillow off my head.”
“I fell asleep with silly putty.”
And he turns around and sure enough, he fell asleep with silly putty and he couldn’t get his head off the pillow.
As a state, we kind of fell asleep with silly putty in our head too.
You know, we thought that we could cut taxes -- and I don’t want to make this partisan -- we all did it, Democrats, Republicans alike, state-level and county-level ) -- we thought we could cut taxes while we made a huge increase in our investment in education. We fell asleep with silly putty in our head, and eventually we couldn’t get up.
Well, fortunately, because of the tough decisions you helped us make, we were able to get up and we’re moving forward again. And why is that? It’s so we can make a mathematical check on the box about the 5.3 billion record education funding? Partly, but not really. Now is it because of the $741 million we’ve been able to invest in school construction, another record for those of you counting along with us? Partly, but not really.
Is it because we want our kids to have the best public school system in the United States of America? You’re damn right it is!
Number one is pretty good. Number one is very good, and we want to improve upon that every single day.
We achieved last year one of the largest reductions in violent -- in homicides of any year in this decade, with the City of Baltimore leading the way with a 17 percent reduction. Jack Johnson was here earlier. Prince George’s County had a reduction. And we can do that every year, folks, because of the partnership, because of the investments, because of the fact that we’re all in this together.
The good work that Jan Gardner and Sandy Coyman did on the Growth Task Force, as difficult as that issue is, we can make progress on that together, as well.
We are going to be moving forward the way that Marylanders always have, especially in the face of adversity. And that’s together. Some of the things we’ve done, the GreenPrint, BayStat, the Smart, Green and Growing website, all of these things underscore that notion, Norm Conway, that I know that you bring to Annapolis, across that bridge every day. And that is that we’re One Maryland, that we’re all in this together and that we’re stronger together.
When you helped us get the silly putty out of our hair last year, I believe it was at this very dinner, someone said, you know, when we address the mistakes that we’ve made at the state level, we should not roll that down and pass that down to the counties and the municipalities and just sort of stand aside and let the red ink, you know, roll over to you. And to a large extent, and I know there were accommodations and compromises, but to a large extent, that’s what we were able to do, thanks to your support and thanks to courageous people like Mike Busch and Mike Miller and Norm Conway and others from the General Assembly.
We’re not going to be able -- we together as a people -- to spare any levels of our government, whether it’s State, whether it’s local or whether it’s municipal from this recession. I wish we were all that good. We’re not. None of us are going to be able to be spared from the sort of cuts that are coming, the sort of reductions that are coming from one of the most dramatic, rapid and historic contractions in the economy that we’ve ever seen. I cannot sugarcoat it.
I know you all have been going through this exercise yourselves, ranking your budget and looking at your county budgets,… we have to remember what our priorities are, right? It’s about those people that we need to fight for that are hurting, through no fault of their own. It’s about public safety and public education and, yes, expanding opportunity. But none of us is going to be spared from any of this. Our hope is that we hang together, if we’re all in this together, if we do this fairly, then these cuts and these reductions will hopefully be temporary in nature and as President Obama rises to this occasion -- as fortunately God has sent us great leaders in tough times as a country to pull us out of these hard times -- then we will come out of this more quickly than other states in the Union.
What’s my reason for believing that? Well, we mentioned the number one public school system, which then leads to the fact that we have one of the top rated work forces in the nation, top three according to Forbes Magazine. We were one of only 10 states last year, folks, that actually even had positive job growth, one of only 10. I think we were one of only seven that had a AAA bond rating. And we’ve seen big increases in the Port of Baltimore. Our unemployment rate is lower than other states. But there’s no way to sugarcoat the challenges ahead of us. And none of us has a stopwatch or a crystal ball to tell us when this is over. You know, we don’t. We won’t climb out of this recession overnight, but we will climb out of it together, as we have in the past.
When that foreclosure crisis hit us, we came together and passed some of the most sweeping foreclosure prevention legislation in the country. Ray Skinner, who is here, and good people at DHCD and Tom Perez and his folks at DLLR have been doing the yeoman’s work, they’re trying to protect as many families as we can, realizing even if we just save one, that God wants every partial victory, and we’re going to continue to fight for the people that we work for.
Together, we’ve recruited 700 pro-bono lawyers to go to and battle with Wells Fargo and the other folks that are far more intent at throwing people out of their homes than they are at working things out with them, and we’re going to continue to fight for those folks.
We were able to provide help for seniors, even in these tough times, on that Medicare Prescription D doughnut hole. We’re continuing with our expansion of health care coverage through the programs that we enacted in the special session.
We are working to assist those who have lost their jobs. We have been engaging in some new debit card programs, which allow new claimants when they file for unemployment benefits to receive their benefits via debit cards. And, in fact, some of the check-cashing people are very, very upset with us because we’re taking profit away from them by allowing people to actually get their money without having it skimmed off.
Our One Stop Centers, as you might imagine in this time, are getting tons of calls. We’ve assisted about 143,000 of our citizens who are trying to find other jobs when they are laid off. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and there are a couple of variables. One of them is our inability to know when we bottom out and start coming back. The other is our inability of being able to predict how quickly President-Elect Obama and the new Congress will be able to enact the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and help us out in this situation.
So, the budget that we submit -- and the clock’s ticking -- I really, really hope and pray is not going to be the same budget that all of us are telling you to vote on at the end of the session. We’ve come too far. We’ve come too far. The best that we can do in many, many items, our priority items, the best that we’re able to do is level fund them. But they’re going to be lots of cuts all around, and I ask for your continued cooperation and partnership, and I also ask for your fortitude, your courage and, most importantly, your faith, that we are still all in this together. And because of that, we’re going to come through this quicker than other states.
There’s an African proverb that reminds us that smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. Well, by God, when we come through this together, we’re going to be able to win the World Cup.
Thank you all.