By DAVE NYCZEPIR
ANNAPOLIS (February 1, 2012)—Gov. Martin O'Malley made his case for job creation and same-sex marriage Wednesday, promoting his most ambitious agenda to date in his sixth State of the State address.
O'Malley stressed his administration's goal of growing the middle class and family-owned businesses, labeling this year's budget a jobs budget.
To balance that budget, the governor has proposed $800 million in spending cuts and reductions this year, but his new job creation initiatives would require new taxes on everything from income to gas. Cuts alone won't do it this year, he said.
"In fact, to achieve balance over the last three years, we have relied almost entirely on cuts," O'Malley said. "But with 84 cents of every dollar we invest allocated to public education, public safety, and public health - and with one of the smallest state government workforces in the country - every passing year leaves fewer and fewer responsible options for budget cutting."
O'Malley got a lukewarm reception from Republican critics.
"It shows he is totally out of touch with Maryland families," Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, said. "It was not so much a state of the state as a state of his policies and his politics."
One of O'Malley's proposed increases would cap income tax deductions and phase out certain exemptions for those he's dubbed Maryland's higher earners.
In addition, O'Malley believes he can double the flush tax yield by switching most households over to a consumption-based fee structure.
"Along these lines, my Republican predecessor called the 'flush tax' one of his most important accomplishments while in office." O'Malley said. "By allowing us to make green upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, we have greatly reduced the pollution flowing into our bay."
Seeking to increase transportation funding for construction and repair projects that would create jobs, O'Malley intends to submit a bill repealing the sales tax exemption on a gallon of gasoline - phasing it out by 2 percent each year unless the price of gas spikes.
"It's going to be an extremely tough sell," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who has advised O'Malley to meet with delegations and various elected officials if he hopes to see the tax increased at all in these difficult times.
Aware that legislators are wary of governors transferring money from the Transportation Trust Fund in order to balance the budget, O'Malley said he would like to safeguard future investments in the fund.
"My understanding is the governor is very receptive to people wanting to protect those funds," said Donald Fry, a former state senator and president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. "There will be some sort of legally enforceable way to ensure the money in the transportation fund is used for transportation purposes."
Fry is also a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding, which recommended a state constitutional amendment, or "firewall", to keep those funds from being used for other purposes.
O'Malley is pursuing an equally aggressive social agenda, having presented his same-sex marriage bill at a Senate Judicial Proceedings committee hearing Tuesday. In his State of the State, he argued that same-sex marriage could be balanced with religious interests.
"It is time to join with clergy, faith-based organizations, civil rights organizations, community leaders and individuals across our state to pass a civil marriage law that protects religious freedom and civil marriage rights equally," O'Malley said.
Because of the scope of his agenda, O'Malley is certain to have plenty of fights on his hands this legislative session.
O'Malley's defense of the same-sex marriage bill is where the political comer is likely to receive national attention, said Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
"He needs a high profile legislative session for his political resume," Eberly said.
O'Malley appeared ready to rise to the occasion.
"Asking our fellow citizens to do more will not be popular," O'Malley said. "But without anger, fear or meanness, let's ask one another: How much less do we think would be good for our children's future?"
Capital News Service's Mali Krantz contributed to this report.