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Maryland Municipal League Fall Legislative Conference

Thank you Sidney.  It’s great to be here with all of you, and to have an excuse to visit the Eastern Shore on this beautiful Autumn’s afternoon.

Dr. King said that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Given what’s going on in our country today, I think we’d all agree that it just might be time to bring out the measuring sticks.

No one in this room needs to be reminded how tough things are right now, not only in our State but everywhere in America.  You feel it in the tough choices you have to make with your own municipal budgets.  You see it in the looks of worry and concern in your neighbors’ eyes.

This is the most serious economic crisis that I can remember our country going through in my lifetime – but we’re going to get through it together.  The best days in life are not always the easiest days, and in times of great adversity, as Marylanders we have always risen to the challenge – that’s who we are and what we do.  And throughout our great revolutionary history, whenever we’ve faced the prospect of allowing our circumstances to change us, we’ve instead rallied together to change our circumstances.

Positive Economic News

I want to spend our brief time together talking a bit about our budget situation and the choices we’ve made together to restore fiscal responsibility,… but first I have some good news to share. Despite all the gloom and doom out there, we can see some very real signs that Maryland is climbing out of this national economic downturn more quickly than other States.

Today, Maryland has the 7th best job growth in the nation, and while growth rates in most States stayed flat or declined during the past year, here in Maryland we’ve been one of only 9 States where job growth has met or exceeded 1 percent.

Between September of 2007 and September of 2008, when our nation as a whole lost more than half a million jobs, here in our One Maryland we grew by 29,000.

Not including the District of Columbia, our job growth is outpacing all our neighbors – regardless of whether you factor in government jobs or not.

Meanwhile exports out of the Port of Baltimore have increased by more than one billion dollars over the past year.

And our unemployment rate is 25% lower than that of the nation as a whole, 13th lowest in the country.

What’s more, we’re well positioned to keep growing.  We have what Forbes Magazine rates as one of the nation’s three most highly skilled workforces and what Education Week says is one of the nation’s three best public school systems.  And a recent study by the Milken Institute found that we’re one of the nation’s two most well-positioned states to leverage our science and technology assets for economic growth.

Fiscal Responsibility and the Budget

We are only going to be able to continue leveraging our potential if we continue to protect and invest in our shared priorities.  This was the course we chose a year ago when we came together in the special session and made some very tough decisions – choices that allowed us, before this national economic crisis took its turn for the worse – to nearly close the $1.7 billion structural deficit we inherited.

Had we not made these choices together – had we turned our backs on fiscal responsibility – then we would have been faced with some very different circumstances at the Board of Public Works last week, when we addressed the $432 million write-down created by this national recession.

To give you an idea of the circumstances we could have faced, we need only look around the country to see what other States are confronting.  In Massachusetts, for example, they are facing over one billion dollars in budget shortfalls.  In Florida they’ve cut aid to school districts by $130 per pupil.  Our neighbors in Virginia are raising college tuition. In Tennessee, between 30,000 and 40,000 seriously ill people could lose hospitalization.  And, Rhode Island has eliminated health coverage for approximately 1,000 low income parents.

It’s very easy to look at what’s happening elsewhere and think “there but for the grace of God (and perhaps the grace of hard work and compromise) go I.”

All things considered, together we have cut $2.2 billion in spending and eliminated over 1,500 State jobs.  Many of these cuts – including our most recent cuts at BPW – were cuts we wished we didn’t have to make.  However, even with these reductions in spending, together we’re still making real and substantial investments in our shared future,…together we’re continuing to strengthen our priorities rather than abandoning them.  Even in difficult economic times,…

Together, we’re still able to maintain our record $5.3 billion investment in our public schools, and together we’re still able to invest $741 million in school construction – a significant increase over the $241 million that our predecessors spent during the comparable period in their administration.

Together we’re still able to hold the line on college tuition with no increase for the third year in a row, and we’re able to increase our funding for community colleges by nearly 40% (compared to what our predecessors were willing to spend during the comparable period).

Together, we’re still expanding health care access to 100,000 additional Marylanders, we’re still able to provide real incentives to small businesses so they can cover their employees, and we’re still able to close the Medicare donut hole.

Together, we’re still able to improve public safety in every region of our State – and through the successful partnerships with all of you, we’re continuing to make real progress, starting with the elimination of a backlog of 24,000 unanalyzed DNA samples we inherited from our predecessors.

And together, we’re still able to make steady progress toward the more sustainable future all of us prefer for our State, through both our investments and our efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay, protect and preserve open space, and promote energy conservation and renewable fuels.  Through important investments we’re making in the Chesapeake 2010 Trust Fund, Program Open Space, and real incentives we created to help homeowners and businesses install green energy systems, to cite just a few examples.

Conclusion: Question 2

I leave you today with a final note.  Much of our ability to continue making progress depends on our ability to pass Question 2 – and whether we’re going to be able to keep Maryland dollars in Maryland which are currently being invested in other states toward their priorities.

This is a moderate, limited, State-controlled proposal with a non-partisan, nine-member State commission providing close regulation – and with the State owning and leasing all the video terminals and controlling the central computer system.

As you know we are only days away from when Maryland voters go to the polls, and we hope that we can count on your support on this very important issue.

Thank you for having me here.  It’s been a great honor to work with all of you these past 20 months, as together we’ve continued to exercise the greatest of freedom’s privileges – the freedom to choose a better future for ourselves, for our children, for our posterity.

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