“Choosing a Government that Works”
Remarks by Governor Martin O'Malley Before the Maryland Association of Counties
Ocean City, Maryland August 15, 2009
It is great to be with all of you, especially in these tough times. I really want to thank all of you who took the time to come here this morning. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to call all of you my fellow citizens.
I was recently in Biloxi, Mississippi with all the other governors in the United States, and I wouldn’t want to trade places with any one of them. No governor has more committed and more courageous partners than all of you who work so hard in local government.
All of us count on you to protect our quality of life; to keep our neighborhoods safe; to provide our children with the best education we can. It’s not hyperbole to say that you have some of the most important jobs in America.
I am so deeply appreciative of the partnership that we have forged together in these important, these transformative and, yes, these difficult years,… the life-saving and life improving connections that are only possible when State and local governments work together.
After our conversation yesterday, I have to confess to you that I had a hard time falling asleep last night. I kind of tossed and turned. I also confess to you that I woke up very early this morning, before sunrise, and I couldn’t get back to sleep thinking about the sorts of things that we’re going to have to do together to weather these difficult times.
During our discussion yesterday with the Board of Directors, I said that sometimes we in government kid ourselves that we have some of the toughest jobs in America. We don’t have the toughest jobs. The toughest jobs right now are being done in Iraq and they’re being done in Afghanistan. The updates I receive from Secretary Atkins certainly brings that point home. So although we do have tough challenges, and although jobs in government are important jobs, we do not have the toughest jobs.
We’re going through a storm., but I hope and believe that some of the things we see on the horizon indicate that the clouds are starting to part a little bit ahead of us,… We should all take comfort in the fact that there is not a stronger ship among the 50 ships in this fleet than the good ship Maryland. We’re all going to get through this together.
I wanted to share a passage for you from a book I’ve been reading:
“There must be a time of day when a man who makes plans forgets his plans and acts as if he had no plans at all. There must be a time of day when a man who has to speak falls very silent. And his mind forms no more propositions, and he asks himself, Did they have a meaning? There must be a time when the man of prayer goes to pray as if it were the first time in his life he had ever prayed. When a man of resolutions puts his resolutions aside as if they had all been broken and he writes a different wisdom, distinguishing the sun from the moon, the stars from the darkness, the sea from the dry land, and the night sky from the shoulder of the hill.”
Despite these difficult economic times, folks, our mission remains the same. It’s to strengthen and grow the ranks of an upwardly mobile and ever more diverse middle class in Maryland. It’s to improve public safety and public education and to expand opportunity to more people rather than fewer; the opportunity to learn, to earn,… the opportunity to enjoy the health of the people we love and depend upon, as well as the health of the Chesapeake Bay, our environment.
Restoring Fiscal Responsibility; Reforming Government
Now, sometimes we have had to play a lot more defense than offense. But together we’ve made real progress in advancing and protecting those shared goals of ours. And we’ve done so while restoring fiscal responsibility – reducing the size of state government while reforming long-neglected state agencies so that they can more effectively provide critical services to the people of our State. State agencies that in the past were almost given a free pass to under-perform. We’re doing the difficult work in forging those connections.
Now, come Labor Day, together the O’Malley/Brown Administration will have reduced spending by more than $4 billion. Four billion dollars. And we will have trimmed our State budget to a point that it is now smaller today than it was when we took office. This is the first time in the last three decades that our state budget has come in lower than where it was three years before.
Now, in that first $3 billion we cut, we did not have to turn to local aid. In the last billion, unfortunately, we did.
The challenges we confront are not primarily structural, they are primarily cyclical. They are a product of a long and deep down cycle, one of the greatest recessions our country has seen this side of the 1930s.
The best days in life are not the easiest days. In some cases it’s not only a matter of doing more with less, in many cases we’re going to be doing less with less. That’s the cold, hard truth.
But in these difficult times, our families continue to need us now more than ever, and therefore, we continue to search for ways to reform our government so that it works better on their behalf.
I want to say a few words about our economy and the reasons that I do believe there is some hope on the horizon.
None of us can say with certainty when this recession will end, but we’re already seeing some encouraging signs here in Maryland, and indeed across our country. Nationally, the financial markets are beginning to stabilize, and here in Maryland, our foreclosure rate actually went down 12 percent in the last reporting period, even as the national rate went up.
Meanwhile, our unemployment rate is approximately 20 percent less than the nation’s unemployment rate. And some of our most competitive sectors -- those very things that are the strongest for us, that are going to pull us and our children into the new economy -- are the areas that have seen some of the greatest growth.
That’s right, they didn’t lose jobs, they created jobs.
Our Education and health services sector grew by 2.5 percent last year. That’s 9,400 jobs.
Our professional, scientific and technical services sector gained 4,200 jobs and there are countless small businesses that all depend on those strong forces to continue to pull for us.
We are in better shape here in Maryland than most states – and our choices and partnerships are a big part of that,… tough decisions we chose together to close the $1.7 billion structural deficit we inherited and restore fiscal responsibility; decisions which allowed us to build the best public school system in America according to Education Week magazine; decisions which allow us to remain one of only seven states to defend a Triple A Bond Rating.
And those things, folks, aren’t by chance, they’re by choice. The choices that you and I have made together on behalf of the people that all of us serve.
Get this -- just to make our problems seem a bit more manageable -- in California they have had to fill a gap which by some estimates has reached as high as 49 percent of their general fund *. New Yorkers have faced a gap as high as 36 percent. Florida, 23 percent.
In Maryland, we have been working to address a gap of 5 percent. It’s a painful delta to cross and all of us need to cross it together. And I need your help in order to cross that delta.
I know that none of you created this recession. I also know that you’ve already made a lot of difficult decisions. Many of you that had to do furloughs. Many of you that had to do cuts. Many of you put off projects that your people desperately needed because of the Highway User Fund cuts. I know you’ve already made a lot of difficult decisions.
Two weeks ago we cut $280 million from department and agency budgets. I’m looking in the faces of men and women that had to offer those.
In order to cut the remaining $400 million, we need to turn to local aid, and, unfortunately, we have to ask hardworking State employees to sacrifice once again as well.
Let me emphasize some of the things that we will not be proposing. We will not be proposing, as they have in California, to lay off 26,000 teachers this year. We will not be proposing, as they have in California, intercepting local revenues and diverting them instead to the State or releasing violent prisoners early before their sentences are served.
We won’t be taking away health care from tens of thousands of our economically disadvantaged citizens as they are in Minnesota.
We will not be selling off our House and Senate office buildings as Arizona is considering.
And we will not be cutting hundreds of children off from Head Start as they are in Rhode Island. Nor will we be jacking up college tuition by double digits every year for the foreseeable future as they are in many other states, including Florida.
Our problems are primarily cyclical. This is a storm. This storm will end. And we need to sail through it together.
The Department of Budget Management has recommended $250 million for us to cut out of local aid. A reduction of that size, as you know, will require a combination of cuts to many things that none of us would ever like to cut: local health, even as we try to prepare better for the return of swine flu; police aid; the disparity grant; community colleges; and, yes, once again, highway user funds, which, as you know, have already taken a hit.
We are going to continue to work with you. And I need to ask once again for your continued partnership.
Ken Ulman had the idea yesterday that we should create the best practices for the things that each of us is doing in our own counties, in our own towns. Things that can help us save money to weather this storm and get through this while still protecting our core priorities.
Choosing a Government That Works
I want to spend the rest of our time together this morning, talking with you about the imperative that all of us share to continue reforming our government so that it works better for our families.
Even in times when our state coffers were full, as Democrats and Republicans we didn’t always make the best decisions for our present or our shared future. Today, this is no longer an option.
In the past two and half years, with the hard work and the partnership of so many of you in this room, we have been reforming our government; making it work again on behalf of our hardworking families.
And there’s never been a time when the hardworking people of Maryland have needed a functional government more than they do right now. Our citizens are counting on us to protect their families during these tough times. They need -- and deserve -- a government that works for them.
In order to turn our economy around, to defend Maryland’s families in these tough times, and to make continued progress, we are reforming government so that our State is positioned to compete in a 21st century world where we face new peril and new possibility.
To compete and prosper in this increasingly interconnected and interdependent 21st century world, we have to be leaders in the skills and education of our people; we must be leaders in developing the new sciences and new technologies that can create renewable energy, conservation technologies and strike a more balanced and sustainable future for the next generation of Marylanders; and we also have to lead in the area of security, as our country continues to face the threat of terrorist attack.
Leading in education – retaining our public schools’ position as #1 in America (according to Education Week magazine – more importantly, becoming #1 in the world – is going to require both continued investments and a government that works. It will mean investing in modern classrooms while at the same time embracing a newfound emphasis on the all-important STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.
I know that you just had a conference on that and you’re doing some great work with the STEM Task Force. America has fallen behind a lot of competitors throughout the world. Maryland needs to lead the way, so that our country can forge ahead again.
Competing to be number one in the world, means that all of us share an imperative to think outside the box in the ways we make these subjects more relevant to students’ interests and daily lives through such things as financial literacy and environmental education.
Leading in sustainability also requires a government that works, which is why, as we’ve increased fivefold (in two and a half years) the lands we protect for the sake of the Bay, we’ve chosen not only to invest Open Space dollars for their intended purpose, but to create a GreenPrint so that we can target them effectively and efficiently. GreenPrint, for those of you who many be unfamiliar, is a first in the nation GIS map of every parcel and plot of land in our State which ecologically scores each parcel so we have a better sense of which should be highest priority to protect.
Reforming government is equally important to our efforts to protect the safety and security of our people, which – even in these tough times – must remain our paramount concern. It’s our most sacred responsibility.
During these past two and-a-half years, with a government that works, together we have forged lifesaving connections.
Through our new Public Safety Dashboard, which gets 10,000 hits a day from government and law enforcement officials at all levels, we’re sharing vital public safety information to a degree never before seen in our State.
And through StateStat we’re implementing the performance based strategies that helped us reduce violent crime by 40% in the City of Baltimore. Together we’re setting goals. Together we’re measuring government performance. Together we’re embracing effective tactics and strategies. And together we’re holding our efforts open and accountable for all to see.
You know what? With a government that works we’ve been able to achieve record reductions in homicides.
We’ve closed a backlog of 24,000 DNA samples which had gone unanalyzed in the past – and we’ve used this evidence to arrest 155 violent criminals. We passed tough new laws to take guns away from domestic abusers. We became the first state to monitor emergency room activity in each of our 46 acute care hospital to protect us in a public health emergency like the H1N1 outbreak. We’ve fixed security at the Port of Baltimore, helping earn a near perfect grade from the Coast Guard where once we received failing marks – the list goes on and on.
As we look forward, I continually hope and know that there will come a day when we no longer are one of the most violent States in America and that we will get from here to there together by continuing to find ways to make our government work more effectively in order to protect lives.
As I close, I’d like to leave you with one final example of how together, we are making our government work again for the people of our State.
I saw some of you earlier this week at a demonstration of StateStat, BayStat, and RecoveryStat, where we talked about some of the ways we’re tracking and targeting our federal stimulus dollars. We in Maryland were first in the nation to use our ARRA funds to help upgrade our schools to modern classrooms and save the jobs of thousands of teachers. We were the first state to submit a shovel-ready transportation project. We were among the first to use our funds to support newly hired police officers, and we were one of the first to use our funds to help families lower their energy bills and carbon footprint by weatherizing their homes.
And recently, we were ranked as the #1 state in the nation in terms of the way we track and target our stimulus dollars. Why have we made this a priority? Because neglecting to match our investments with a commitment to making our government work would be akin to setting out on a long road trip without a map or directions. You probably aren’t going to just luck into the best route.
During these past two and half years, we have chosen as a people not to allow our circumstances to change us, but instead to come together as One Maryland to change our circumstances. Rather than giving up on government or the well-being of our fellow citizens – and rather than turning a blind eye to our future – we have chosen instead to make our government work better.
This week, my office released some of the suggestions that our fellow citizens shared with us regarding our budget. I wanted to share with you some of the suggestions that have come in.
A citizen in Baltimore County urged us not to cut education, writing: “Our students need all the support they can get to be competitive. Please do not cut any more in education. Families need to be able to afford higher education costs also.”
A citizen in Anne Arundel County writes: “Maryland State employees should be required to have direct deposit, eliminating the paper check and use of envelopes. They should also view their leave and earning statements online, thus eliminating more use of paper products.”
A citizen in Baltimore City suggests, “Computers, printers, copiers, desk calculators need to be turned off on weekends and evenings when not in use.”
A citizen in Wicomico recommends scanning and emailing documents rather than snail mailing them, writing that “Every dollar adds up.”
Several citizens wrote to suggest moving to a four day, 40 hour -- that is a 10 hour per day -- work week. To this end, an Anne Arundel citizen writes, “Saving money, helping the environment, providing better work-life balance without a decline in services offered? Yes, we can.”
I was struck by the sincerity of the vast majority of the comments that came in. I really do believe that people know we’re all in this together and that the government is important to their lives.
Their spirit of ingenuity truly affirms the notion that that our greatest asset in Maryland is, was, and will always be the creativity, talents, skills, and resolve of our people.
Three Short Stories
I want to close by telling you three short stories.
I’m joined here by three of my most important constituents, Katie O’Malley, William O’Malley and Jack O’Malley. (Applause.)
Katie and I are not really good about putting our son back in his bed when he comes into ours in the middle of the night. He’s six years old. But we’re tired, it’s our fourth one.
The other day, amid all the challenges, we woke up on a so-called average summer day, and Katie gave us both a nudge to get us up. I opened my eyes and I’m looking into the blue eyes of my six year old boy, who on this so-called average typical summer day, whispers to me -- looked me dead in the eye – “I can’t wait for today.” I can’t wait for today.
Second story is apocryphal, but relevant nonetheless. There’s a little boy who says to his grandfather, “Grandfather, we’ve learned all about the importance of trees, how they can help the environment and sequester carbon and help with storm water run-off. When’s the best time to plant a tree?” His grandfather says, “Well, it takes time for those roots to go deep, branches to spread, so for that tree to have its greatest impact, the most important time plant a tree is 20 years ago.” And the boy says, “Well, when is the next best time to plant a tree?” The grandfather responds: “Right now.” Right now.
Here’s the third story: Once upon a time there was a great people and they were great because of the beliefs they shared: a belief in the dignity of every individual, and a belief in our own responsibility to advance the common good. And they were great because they understood that their greatness came from their diversity.
These people, rather than abandoning their beliefs, risked action on the faith that they could change the future. They invested more in the education and skills of their people. They found new ways to confront the enemies outside their country and new ways to make their own place safer.
They found new ways to advance science and technology and create a better harmony and balance, putting a check on consumptive and self-destructive habits in order to sacrifice and make a better future for their kids -- not only in their own State, but in their country and in their world.
Folks, this last story can be our story.
None of us can write it by ourselves. We need each other. We need to have the courage to confess our doubt.
These are very difficult times, but we’re going to come through them. And we’re going to come through them together, because right now is the best time we have. We can’t go back eight years. We can’t go back 20 years. Right now.
I wouldn’t trade places with any other Governor in America right now. And I can’t wait for today.
Thanks very much. (Applause.)
* Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities