Kojo speaks with Maryland's Attorney General Brian Frosh about his office's expanded powers granted in the most recent General Assembly session. We also discuss the latest plan to make Metro solvent with Metro Board member and Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey.
Guest Host: Matt McCleskey
Maryland’s legislative session came to a screeching halt on Monday without action on the state’s budget. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who tried to use his political capital to advance a wide range of issues this year, accused lawmakers of falling down on the job. He joins us in studio to give us insight into what comes next, and to analyze the bills that did pass before the session expired.
- Martin O'Malley Governor, Maryland (D)
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) talks about what’s likely to happen if the state legislature fails to meet a budget consensus. Gov. O’Malley said that county executives will face large holes in their budgets that will affect education and public safety, among other areas:
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Matt McCleskey, local host of "Morning Edition" here in WAMU 88.5, sitting in today for Kojo. Later in the broadcast, a filmmaker who started his career by studying international politics in Canada and ended up with a recent invitation to the Academy Awards.
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYThat's ahead, but first, a rather un-Hollywood ending in Annapolis. Maryland's lawmakers didn't exactly ride off into the sunset on Monday night. The 2012 General Assembly session came to a screeching halt without a resolution on a budget or on several high-profile issues, including the expansion of casino gambling to Prince George's County. Gov. Martin O'Malley who earlier this week accused the General Assembly of falling down on the job may soon be calling them back for a special session.
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYHe joins us today in studio to chat about what legislators did manage to accomplish in the session and how their unfinished business is likely to be settled in the weeks and months ahead. Gov. O'Malley, thanks so much for being here.
GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEYMatt, thank you.
MCCLESKEYWell, first off, where do we stand, and are you going to call a special session?
O'MALLEYWell, we -- what we have to do first is call one another and see if we have the consensus to resolve what many thought should have been resolved before midnight on the final day of the session. We had the makings for a budget compromise that allowed us to protect education -- number one public schools in America four years in a row -- that allowed us to continue to make strides and making college more affordable and that allowed us to continue to save lives by making our streets and our neighborhoods safer and supporting public safety.
O'MALLEYSo of the many good things done in this session, including marriage equality, a number of bills to improve the health of the bay, but one fundamental responsibility of passing a responsible budget eluded us in those final minutes. And so if we had the consensus, I'd be glad to call a special session this afternoon, but the speaker and the Senate president need to talk with one another. They need to talk with their members. And we need to get together and see if, in fact, we can make the sort of decisions that allow us to protect education, public safety. If we don't, the budget that's passed...
MCCLESKEYWhat are the stakes here? What I ask you, given that the revenue plan -- perhaps now we fall back on this doomsday budget, the so-called doomsday budget...
MCCLESKEY...where do things stand now?
O'MALLEYWell, let's keep two -- three things in mind...
O'MALLEY...if you will. Over the last four very difficult years, we have made cut after cut after cut, so the cumulative amount of cuts is about $7.5 billion in cuts over my term in office. That's more cuts than any governor since the Great Depression has had to make. Second point, when this budget was submitted, it was balanced when my administration with the eight, nine months to prepare it submitted it. It was a balanced budget proposal. And part of that balancing was the cutting of about $800 million -- 250 of which was the pension sharing, but the rest were cuts.
O'MALLEYSo on top of that, we now have been left by the legislature with another half a billion dollars in cuts. And those cuts would happen and would hit public education. So as school boards try to put together their budgets, which they usually zero in on once the legislature is done, as county executives Rushern Baker and Ike Leggett with their councils put together their local budgets, they are going to see much larger holes in their budget because of what the General Assembly failed to do in the budget they enacted.
O'MALLEYThe thought in the final hours was that we would have a balanced approach of cuts and some revenues. In this case, the compromise was the House version, which would call upon roughly 15 percent of Maryland filers in the top earning categories to pay a little more in their income tax so that we could continue to have number one public schools, more affordable college and safer streets. They failed to do that, and that's where we stand right now.
MCCLESKEYNow, earlier this week, I spoke with Senate President Mike Miller, and he called the House approach -- class warfare was the term he used. We often hear that type of language coming from Republicans on the national scene. But that idea of keeping the tax increase to the upper revenue earners, he had called class warfare. How far apart, in your estimation, are the two Houses? I mean, given that you're all in the same party, what are the -- what's the divide here?
O'MALLEYThat's funny. You know, sometimes, I've talked to people who have served in other states as governors, and some of them have said to be, you know, it's trickier when your own party is in control. And certainly, this week, that would appear to be the case. I don't think they're that far apart. I'll tell you what they've always been far apart on is the issue of gambling. It has been a difficult issue for both of these gentlemen, both of whom I respect. They both have very strongly held feelings, and those feelings are exactly opposite of one another.
O'MALLEYAnd so when we inject into the final 10 days of the budget session and insistence from one side of the State House that gambling be included in any compromise, it credit outs some other important things that we weren't able to get to, one of them being transportation funding -- kind of fell off the radar screen in both Houses in the end there. And it's too bad because, I think there had been a lot of good public discussion about the need to invest in our infrastructure. On the more positive side, if I may...
O'MALLEY...we did pass a capital budget. We're one of only eight states that has a AAA bond rating, so -- and we -- that capital budget supports about 50,000 jobs. We're going to be able to do more in terms of our wastewater infrastructure because of an expansion of the flush fee, flush tax and that investment which helps the bay, passed important legislation on storm water, important legislation to curb the sort of septic sprawl that's, by its very nature, polluting of eventually our waterways and our aquifers and our streams.
O'MALLEYSo while there was a lot that was accomplished, the budget compromise disintegrated in that last half hour. And we hope to get it back on track. We may or may not. It could well be -- if the two Houses are not able to reach a consensus, then school boards and counties may have to live with these deep cuts. And all of us will be reminded of the degree to which things like public safety and public education and affordable college are shared responsibilities here in Maryland.
MCCLESKEYWell, I'd like to play one clip quickly from my conversation earlier this week with Senate President Mike Miller with his idea of what we can look for going forward. Let's hear that very quickly. You need to put on your headphones so you can hear what he had to say.
O'MALLEYAre you sure I haven't heard it before?
MCCLESKEYYou may have.
STATE SEN. MIKE MILLERThis is not some catastrophic event. I mean, we will come together. It will occur whenever the governor feels that he wants to cover it. Obviously, we have until July 1 to get it done, but we're going to agree on a plan. We're going to get together, get the votes together and hopefully move in and get it done in a day or two.
MCCLESKEYNow, you just said a moment ago they might not do it. In your estimation...
O'MALLEYWell, that's great.
MCCLESKEY...how likely is it?
O'MALLEYHey, that's great. If they can get it together in a day or two, God bless them. The -- it's -- we had the makings of a compromise. Everybody knows what it was. It's not secret. I mean, it was there in the BRFA. It was there in the revenue measures. And that compromise also included going from five sites to six sites for gambling...
O'MALLEY...with the sixth site being at the urging of county executive Rushern Baker to be at National Harbor. Whether that was a true consensus or one that was agreed to with fingers crossed behind backs, I'm trying to sort out right now, Matt...
O'MALLEY...and I think it's a question that the speaker and the president need to ask one another and ask their members. And so I'm looking forward to getting Maryland back on track. This is not in keeping with what these men and the men and women of the Maryland General Assembly have done in even tougher economic years. We're now ninth among the 50 states in our rate of job creation.
O'MALLEYWe have the most highly skilled and educated workforce in the country, and we're the only one that's been able to make college more affordable rather than more expensive during these recessionary years. We need to return to our true selves.
MCCLESKEYWell, I imagine behind the scenes, of course, you've been talking with Senate President Miller and also Michael Bush, the speaker of the House of Delegates. I don't know how much of that you can talk about. But from those conversations and others around Annapolis, do you have a sense of whether or not a special session would get anything done? If at this point, if we hadn't one called, is that because they wouldn't be able to come together?
O'MALLEYThe -- it's -- what is today? Is today only Thursday?
O'MALLEYI lost track of the days this week. The General Assembly, I mean, all of the members have returned to their businesses, to their shops, to their law practices, to their doctor's practices and have -- so that these couple of days will be a good breathing time for people to reassess. And I think a lot of this came as a surprise to many members who rely upon their leaders to get things done in the final crunch. We weren't able to get it done.
O'MALLEYAnd we all share a responsibility for getting it back on track. And I hope that we will. I really do. I don't -- I'm pretty ambivalent as Matt -- you and I have conversations about gambling and the extent to which that should be a source of public funding for things that we can only do together, like education and public safety and the like. But I don't believe that whether we have five sites in Maryland or six sites in Maryland is worth bringing down the entire state budget and undermining public safety and public education.
O'MALLEYI just don't -- I'm not that -- I just don't see it as an issue that that should do that. And the voters made a decision once on referendum. It could make another decision on referendum whether to do this. So I don't know, Matt. I'm kind of thinking out loud here. This is -- I would like to have been able to tell you that, once again, we have secured the investments that allow us to have -- to create the number one public schools, more affordable college and safer streets. But we've got some -- legislature has some more work to do.
MCCLESKEYI do want to get to some of the things that were accomplished during the session. But before we get off this issue of the revenue plan, you mentioned shared responsibility. There have been a couple of editorials, The Baltimore Sun also this morning and The Washington Post's Robert McCartney's column did lay a lot of the blame on your desk as the chief executive in the state.
MCCLESKEYThe sign, in fact, says although the 11th hour drama centered on the House and the Senate, Mr. O'Malley is ultimately the one in charge, and the debacle reflects badly on him. It says that, according to The Sun, you need to be more publicly and aggressively involved in pushing the debate from the start but instead took a laissez faire attitude. How valid is that? Could you have done more? Should you have done more?
O'MALLEYThe -- I met with both of The Washington Post editorial powers and The Sun...
O'MALLEY...a week before, and at that time, we were all in agreement that it had been a productive session. And had the compromise gone through in the last five minutes, you would not see this sudden profession of their part that I was not working hard enough. I've been certainly not a perfect leader but lack of work has never been one of my problems. I was very much involved in this process.
O'MALLEYWe submitted a budget to the Maryland General Assembly that was balanced -- involved a balanced approach of revenues, primarily derived from those of us in the top earning 20 percent of our state agreeing to a slight capping of our deductions. And that budget was balanced. It protected public education and protected affordable college. And it's a -- and the General Assembly, both Houses decided to go in a different direction because of the screams and the -- and the protests of very well-organized real estate lobby.
O'MALLEYBut, certainly as governor, I bear responsibility. I bear responsibility every day. That's what you volunteered to do as governor. And I'm very proud of my -- of the people I serve, and I think that we have come though this recession better than most states because we've made decisions based on what's best for all of us, not decisions that are driven by special interest. And that's the true Maryland we need to return to. We did in every other session. Well, we should've been able to do it in this one, and hopefully, we'll all take a deep breath and be able to get back on course.
MCCLESKEYWe're talking with Maryland's Gov. Martin O'Malley here on the "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Matt McCleskey, your local host of "Morning Edition," sitting in today for Kojo. We will be taking some of your calls for the governor. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. That's 800-433-8850. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Well, one of the signature pieces of legislation that did get through the general assembly this year was same-sex marriage and the approval there. Of course, that's...
O'MALLEYSeems like light-years ago.
MCCLESKEYWell, tell us a little bit about that and your involvement there and what we can look forward to in terms of November and a referendum there.
O'MALLEYWe were able to come together around an issue that, of course, very contentious and evolving. But we found a way as other states have to protect religious freedom and the rights of individuals equally in the context of civil marriage. And the likelihood is that, given Maryland's low threshold for signatures in order to petition an item to referendum that this issue will be on a ballot in November, and the people of our state will make a decision.
O'MALLEYI believe that people will support this measure because it protects religious freedom and it protects the dignity of every individual equally under the law. As we look at this issue, I found that -- and talking to neighbors, that no one concludes that is right or just, that some children, namely children of gay or lesbian parents, would have lesser protections under the law than other children.
O'MALLEYWe all want the same thing for our children. We want them to live in loving, caring, stable, committed households, protected equally under the law. And I think, particularly because of how explicitly religious freedoms are protected, I think that the people of our state will support this effort. And, I think, the referendum will uphold what the legislature courageously accomplished in this session.
MCCLESKEYI do want to go to some of our callers now. Arlene is calling from Potomac, Md. Arlene you're on the air. Go ahead with your question for Gov. O'Malley.
ARLENEHi. Thank you, Martin O'Malley, for all your work, and I'm so sorry. It must be so discouraging. I just wanted to know if, at this moment, I mean, I myself have been to a few different rallies to help support this budget going through, et cetera. Is there anything right now -- anyone actually that we can call that would be helpful?
O'MALLEYOh, I think if you know your legislators, I think, thanking them for the good work they did and encouraging them to stay at it in order to accomplish a budget that protects Maryland's priorities, I mean, I think, that's the most important thing. I'll tell you what's not -- but go ahead.
ARLENESo just call out legislators right now?
O'MALLEYYeah, your local legislators. Let them call them, and encourage them to not give up and stay at it and remind them that compromise for the common good is -- there's nothing dishonorable in that. We all have different perspectives. The budget, as it ended up, was different than the one I submitted. But we all, I think, need to be flexible, and we need to be respectful of one another. People who go into public service for the vast majority of them, and I've come to know these individuals personally over these years, we all want to do the right thing.
O'MALLEYWe want to do right by the people we serve, so I'd encourage them to stay at it, return to our true selves, pass a budget that's a balanced approach of revenues and cuts that protect not just our AAA bond rating but also protects public education and public safety. We can do it. The makings of that compromise were there. We just need to subordinate ego and focus on the good of the people we serve.
MCCLESKEYThanks for your call, Arlene. Gov. O'Malley, I'd like to ask you, immediately after Monday night, some Republicans in the Maryland legislature had pretty happy things to say about the fact that this so-called doomsday budget may now be in effect. If there's a failure on the part of the general assembly to come back and make a compromised deal, is this a win for Republicans in Maryland?
O'MALLEYWell, we managed to do something to ourselves that the Republican caucus couldn't do to us in five or six years. I don't think there's anything to, I mean, there were a lot of cheers when people saw that education would be cut and the public safety would be cut. I suppose our state -- I mean, we're certainly not immune from the sort of Tea Party anti-government ideology that exists in our state house as well.
O'MALLEYAnd then -- we may well have to live with these cuts if we're not able to come up -- if we're not able to reassemble the consensus that eluded us in those closing moments of the legislature. We might have to live with these cuts, and then get back on our truer path in the next general assembly session in January. I hope we don't because Maryland -- sometimes, people like to talk about states being laboratories of democracy. Maryland, over the last few years, has really been a lifeboat of progress.
O'MALLEYThere is not another state you can point to that's been able to accomplish as much as we have on education. Number one ranked schools in America, four years in a row, never happened before. We managed to do that for our kids in the toughest of time. No other state that make college more affordable rather than more expensive.
O'MALLEYVery few other states have achieved the sort of violent crime reductions that we achieved, and then you add to that the complexity of our making better decisions so that we can live in a healthier environment, given our proximity to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. I mean, these have been positive years for Maryland, and this sort of all cuts and unbalanced approach is not in the best interest of progress for the people of our state.
MCCLESKEYOne question via email -- it's from Valerie in College Park -- regarding salaries in the University system. You mentioned higher education there. And she says, "As a faculty member at the University of Maryland College Park, I'd like to ask the governor how far we'll have to go in accepting this downturn?" She says, "Faculty at the University of Maryland have not had a COLA raise in over four years and no merit raises."
MCCLESKEYHow do -- she says, "How do you expect scholarship to continue and faculty to feel invested in teaching and research if there's no hope for seeing salaries at least raised to accommodate for inflation?"
O'MALLEYAnd I agree.
MCCLESKEYAnd that -- just that simply?
O'MALLEYYes. I agree. That's why we -- that's why I'm not supportive of what the legislature did in cutting higher education by $50 million. We have more PhDs per capita that any other workers in any state in America. We are number one in terms of research. And this year, the general assembly passed the Maryland Innovation Initiative whose goal is to move 40 ideas every year out of the labs and into the economy where they can create jobs and form the bases of new startup companies that hire our people.
O'MALLEYSo all of this is the reason why we invest 50 cents out of every state general fund dollar into education, whether tier education or elementary school. And that's why in the choices that we've made over the last five, six years, we've managed to protect those priorities. We haven't been able to make all of those priorities immune from the downturn of the recession but we certainly have done a better job of protecting our core.
O'MALLEYAnd, Valerie, to you and your employees or rather your colleagues who are employees of University system of Maryland, I appreciate your service in these tough times. A lot of state employees -- I mean, you talked about not receiving a COLA. A -- other state employees had to give up furlough days and have their pay cut, have their co-pays increase in health insurance, give up pension benefits and the like as well.
O'MALLEYSo -- and a lot of people have been searching for work for a long time. Now, on the good news front, we've recovered 80 percent of the jobs we lost in the Bush recession. We now have a rate of job creation that is ninth out of the 50 states. We still have a lot going for us, not withstanding this last minute budgeting pass. And so if we get back on the horse here, we can keep moving forward. But that's going to require people to dial up goodwill and forthrightness and forging compromise.
MCCLESKEYWe go back to the phones. Andrew in Rockville, Md., has been waiting on the line patiently. Andrew, go ahead. You're on the air.
ANDREWHi. Thank you, governor, and thank you, Matt, for taking my call. I was just wondering what happens to the wind bill? I know there's a lot of support for it. And I was wondering what happened to it, and why it didn't go through.
O'MALLEYYeah. Go ahead. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cut you off.
ANDREWI was just saying thank you for taking my call. I'll take your answer off air.
O'MALLEYYeah, this was a big new idea. And sometimes, big new ideas take more than a year or two to pass in the Maryland General Assembly. Last year, we weren't able to get this out of either committee and either House, and what Andrew is talking about, for folks that are listening and haven't been following this one perhaps, is Maryland, geographically, has an abundance of renewable energy in the form of offshore wind. Harnessing that wind is the trick here.
O'MALLEYThere have been efforts moving forward on the federal level to figure out what areas out there are appropriate for it, and that's been completed thanks to President Obama and Secretary Salazar. What we now need is to find a way to finance what is a big capital expenditure up front in order to harness a supply of energy, namely wind, that is then free into the future. So we had a bill last year, made it -- did not make it out of either committee.
O'MALLEYThis year, the wind bill made it out of the House committee, thank you to Chairman Davis, and then received overwhelming support in the House of Delegates. We got caught up and failed by one vote in the Senate finance committee. And so we will be back again next year and hopefully get -- continue the progress and perhaps next year will be the year that it passes.
O'MALLEYIn the meantime, we have been given -- or rather, in the mean time, there has been invested about $30 million to fund the initial research and development, and that's going to go on regardless of the inaction in the Senate Finance Committee. So that work will happen. We're not -- we'll continue to move forward, and it would be good to be able to persuade those remaining one more vote in the Senate committee 'cause I believe the support is there on the Senate floor.
MCCLESKEYAll right. We're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley so much for coming in today.
O'MALLEYThank you, Matt.
MCCLESKEYThank you for being here. And thanks to all of our listeners and all of our callers. Just ahead in the broadcast, we'll talk to a filmmaker who started his career by studying international politics in Canada and ended up with a recent invitation to the Academy Awards. His movie is coming to the D.C. Filmfest, and we'll talk to the director of "Monsieur Lazhar" just ahead after this break. Stay with us.
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