Thank you. If you all would remain standing for just one second -- before I begin our talk here about the urgent business of building a better future for our State, there's some really important people here in the gallery and in the audience with us. I ran into the family of Officer Christopher Nicholson, the Smithburg officer who died in the line of duty protecting us. And in addition to that, we're joined by the family of Maryland Transportation Authority Police Corporal Courtney Brooks, who was tragically taken from us and we thank you for being here as well. Our hearts go out to you, and we'll never be able to repay the debt of gratitude we owe you, but we thank you for being here.
My friends, over the last year four State and local law enforcement officers and one firefighter gave their lives in the line of duty. And twenty of our sons and daughters gave their lives for us fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So I ask you to just join me, before we talk here, in a moment of silence in their honor.
Thank you very much.
Thank you. Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Mr. Chief Judge, Mr. Attorney General, Mr. Comptroller, Madam Treasurer, Mayor of the District of Columbia Adrian Fenty, former Governors, former Attorney General Joseph Curran, Judge Katie O'Malley, Ambassador Collins, Ambassador Bruton, my colleagues in local Government, men and women of the Maryland General Assembly, my fellow citizens.
We gather today in the very building where, since Revolutionary times, generation after generation, the people of our State have come to assess our strength and our weaknesses as a community and to decide how we will overcome the challenges of our times.
The most important days are not always the easy days, but time and time again we have overcome challenges because of our respect for the dignity of every individual, because of our commitment to the common good, and because we have had the courage to protect our priorities especially when we are faced with times of great adversity.
For these reasons Maryland has been a strong State and, in many respects, we're stronger today than we were at this same time last year. But the future of our State is very much determined by the strength and the security of the families of Maryland, the hardworking and loving families that we have the honor and the responsibility to represent in this place.
And today the vast majority of Maryland's families, like families throughout our country, are finding it harder and harder just to pay their bills and maintain the quality of life that they have worked so very, very hard to achieve.
And this is not just a Maryland problem, this is a national problem. For the sad truth of our shared reality is that over the last seven years, real wages in our country have risen by just about 1 percent. And, unfortunately, as all of us know, all of the other essential things that a family needs to survive have grown by a lot more than just 1 percent, haven't they?
Over the last seven years the price of a gallon of milk is up 30 percent, the price of a loaf of bread is up 20 percent, and yet real wages have only increased by 1 percent. The price of a gallon of gasoline, up 100 percent over those last several years. The price of health insurance is up 78 percent and yet real wages have increased in our nation by only about 1 percent.
Our families are struggling to get ahead, our parents are working harder and harder as national forces and trends keep pulling them back. A dollar that's being devalued by huge mounting national debt, rising unemployment in the nation, and look at the foreclosures -- unprecedented in modern times.
Home foreclosures in our State alone are up 600 percent since last year. And, of course, we didn't need those numbers to tell us that, did we? We can see it in the eyes of the people that we serve, we can hear it in their voices. People are concerned, and rightly so.
No wonder then that so many of us were frustrated when in the midst of this national economic downturn we were also forced to confront a long neglected structural deficit. The frustration is totally understandable and there is good reason for all of us to be concerned and worried about our economic future.
But I submit to you that the way that we get through this, the way that we get through these tough times together and the way that we get through them more quickly than other States in the union is not by abandoning our priorities, but by protecting our priorities.
The most important things in life are not always the easy days, but our State has weathered difficult times before and we're going to weather these difficult times now.
And we're going to come through this more quickly than other States, but only if we can continue to protect the priorities of our people, to protect and strengthen our middle class, our family owned businesses and our family farms. To protect our communities so that we can improve public safety and public education in every part of our State and to protect opportunity; the opportunity to learn, to earn, to enjoy the health of the people we love, as well as the health of the environment that we love, the Bay that we love -- for more people rather than fewer.
Yes, to get through these tough times, my friends, the people of our State are working as hard as they can to protect their families and defend their quality of life. And in their hearts they expect us to do the same, even when it's not easy and even when it's not politically popular.
At this same time last year you will recall that days after officially inheriting a crushing deficit, this new administration presented a budget to you that had been cut by $400 million. Months later we cut another $280 million out of that budget. And over the last few months of important work we were able to reduce spending growth by another $552 million.
The budget that we have now presented to you for consideration for this upcoming year actually comes in, for the second year in a row, under spending affordability. And because of the $1.2 billion in cuts and spending reductions and because of the other difficult choices on revenues, we are able now to protect the priorities of our people. The priority of public education and school construction, the priority of public safety, the priority of more affordable health care.
And because you had the courage to restrain spending and restore fiscal responsibility, we can stand up and we can stand up this year to end the fast track to foreclosure that has been allowed to exist in the law in Maryland and we can also help thousands of families slipping into foreclosure. (Applause)
We can also hold the line against the rising cost of college tuition.
Hardworking families in Maryland should be able to send their kids to schools in
Maryland. Don't you think?
Joining us in the gallery is a young man, returning Marine, proud son of our State, and he's going to be able to attend the University of Maryland College Park and he's going to be using the Veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq Scholarship Program that you created. He has returned home, completing his third tour of duty for us in Iraq and he's with us. I'd like you to acknowledge his presence here and the service of United States Marine Lance Corporal Will Amos. (Applause)
It's all about protecting the priorities of our people and we have now the ability to do that. And we also have the ability to make our Government work again. And to make our Government work on behalf of the best interest of the people of our State and that's what we're going to do.
The people of our State deserve a State Government that works as hard as they do.
Last year we implemented performance measured management and accountability on a level never before attempted in any other State, with the creation of StateStat. Today, 13 different departments or agencies are now participating in performance measured Government in order to improve efficiency and service delivery for the people of our State.
One year ago I came before you and pledged to make our port, the Port of Baltimore, a leader in Homeland Security, rather than a subject of ridicule on security. We're not there yet, but one year later I can tell you that our port, the closest deep-water port to our nation's capital, is more secure, is better prepared and also better equipped to deal with threats than we were at this same time last year. And I ask for your continued support as we bring in the best minds from around the country to take us to that next level of preparedness.
Last year we announced the formation of the BRAC subcabinet, led by Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. And since that time, after countless meetings and collaborations with businesses and military leaders, with our Congressional delegations and leaders of our towns and our cities and our counties, Lt. Governor Brown has allowed us not only to come together to publish a BRAC Action Plan for harnessing the opportunity of the thousands of jobs that are going to be coming to Maryland in the years ahead, but because of your help in restoring fiscal responsibility, we're now going to be able to make substantial progress towards implementing that plan.
Last year this administration pledged to develop a State-wide vision for transportation and because of the tough choices that you made, we are actually going to be able to move forward with making that vision happen. Moving forward with action. Action like resurfacing portions of I-58 and I-81 in Western Maryland.
Forward with the next phase of widening U.S. 113 on the Eastern Shore and the planning study to improve traffic flow and safety near Ocean Pines. And in Southern Maryland we're moving forward with major improvements in the Waldorf area.
We will also move forward with a more balanced plan of action for the next
generation of mass transit in Maryland.
Like expanded MARC service, dedicated funding for Metro and also the next steps in creating the purple line and the corridor city transit roads. (Applause)
And in Baltimore, Mayor Dixon will be moving forward with the red and green lines in Baltimore. (Applause)
Last year we also pledged to roll up our sleeves together to find ways to bring the rising costs of health care under control, while improving access for our people. And the Health Care Reform Act, which you passed two months ago, will ultimately allow us to cover more than 100,000 Marylanders who currently don't have insurance. (Applause)
And why is that important? Well, it's important on a whole number of levels. Certainly important for those 100,000 Marylanders and their families, but it's also important because it allows us to expand access to preventive care, which will, in turn, allow us to stabilize costs and provide incentives for many small family-owned businesses for the first time who want to join the ranks of the insured in our State. Thank you, Delegate Hammond and Senator Middleton for your hard work on that. (Applause)
Last year we also vowed to use open space dollars for the purchase of open space. But we started to do some other things as well. We start to apply performance measured management to the huge challenge of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay with BayStat. Hundreds of years ago John Smith made the first map of the Chesapeake Bay, we're constructing the second one. And this one will be a map that's parcelized, it allows GPS and that sort of coordination to bring together all of the efforts of agriculture, DNR, Department of Environment, Planning, and County Governments in order to see what we are doing in this critical Bay watershed and how we can do a better job of restoring her health.
We have more cover crop enrollments than ever before, while continuing oyster restoration efforts to help the Bay and our watermen. And with your creation of the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, we can do even more in the upcoming year.
But as we look to the year ahead, I'd like to go back, too, and begin really again with the most fundamental priority and responsibility that any Government has to its people. And that is to safeguard the lives of our citizens, the safety of our citizens, our neighborhoods and our communities.
Public safety is the foundation of any civilized society and in Maryland we have the opportunity to make our State the safest State in the union, instead of allowing ourselves year after year to be ranked as one of the most violent States in the union.
For too long we've allowed ourselves to look at violent crime as a socioeconomic problem or some sort of thorny cultural problem or something that just defies solution because that's just the way it is.
And most sadly of all, that sort of defeatist, low expectation attitude is too often rooted in the opinions that we hold consciously and subconsciously of our fellow neighbors, because of differences of race or class or place.
But this problem of ours, this problem in Maryland, is not the concern of one race or one city or one county, it is everyone's problem. As Robert Kennedy told us 40 years ago, and I quote, "The victims of violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown, they are, most important of all, human beings, whom other human beings loved and needed.
Whenever any American life is take by another American unnecessarily, whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence, whenever we tear at the fabric of a life, which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded."
My fellow citizens, we've allowed our one Maryland to be degraded by violence for far too long. One of our highest priorities this year will be to fight back against violent crime -- whenever and wherever it occurs in the State of Maryland. (Applause)
One year ago I shared with you, you may recall, how deeply concerned I was about how troubled so many of our departments that are involved in public safety were. Well, over the course of this year we have begun to make progress, we really have.
Working hard every single day to turn the situation around, so that our State gets back into the business of supporting local police departments and communities everywhere in our State in the fight against violent crime.
Over the course of this last year we closed the House of Correction and we opened a safer and more modern facility. (Applause)
We also overhauled, at long last, Parole & Probation and the way that they had in the past of figuring out who should be at the highest level of supervision. We are now in a much better position and have already zeroed in on the most violent predators with far more intensive supervision.
We have better diagnostic tools also in place at Juvenile Services, so that we can prevent violence, heal families, and prevent the loss of young lives to homicide.
We have created a Violence Prevention Unit at Parole & Probation to partner with local police and prosecutors so that we can legally and quickly remove the most violent offenders from our streets before they can murder again. (Applause)
We have also created two Regional Gun Task Forces with local governments, including our neighbors in the District of Columbia, to take guns off our streets. Thank you, Mayor Fenty, for helping us do that. (Applause)
Led by General Maynard and also by Colonel Sheriden, we are systematizing the collection, the analysis and the relaying of gang intelligence to local police departments so they can act on it to save lives.
And finally, last year we were able to knock out what had become a really shameful backlog of 24,000 DNA fingerprints, if you will, that had been taken from those convicted of violent crimes, but had never been analyzed by our State crime lab. Can you imagine that?
Cases are now being solved, Iím glad to tell you. Theyíre being solved, violence prevented, as Maryland finally makes better use of DNA fingerprinting and its potential to solve and prevent violent crimes.
And in the year ahead I want to ask for your support for several important things on this front. Number one, to add 50 additional officers to more closely and intensely supervise those who are released back into our communities on parole and probation.
Number two, to embark on a long overdue rebuilding of the minimal number of modern, regional facilities for our long, long ignored Juvenile Services system. (Applause)
Number three, to expand the utilization of modern GPS tracking technology so that we can save the lives of our most at-risk young offenders in some of our most challenged and violence-plagued neighborhoods, to save their lives and rescue them from the clutches of the hitmen and drug dealers.
Number four, I need your help to increase the availability of drug treatment programs, as well as community based programs like Operation Safe Kids. (Applause)
So that we can do a much better job of partnering with our county health departments in order to save young lives.
But most importantly I urge your support for legislation that is supported by virtually every police chief in every town and county in our State. It is supported by virtually every prosecutor, every Stateís Attorney in the State of Maryland. And that is an expansion of our Stateís DNA fingerprinting efforts so that we can solve more violent crimes more quickly and put murderers and rapists behind bars before they murder or rape again. (Applause)
If you look at the evolution of this technology, it follows almost exactly the evolution that happened after the advent of fingerprinting. Eleven other States now, including Virginia, collect DNA prints from those that are charged with violent crimes. And given the level of violence that we have in our State, there really is no justifiable reason that Maryland should not be in the forefront of using this modern crime solving tool, rather than lagging behind.
Yes, to come through these tough times as quickly as possible, we must protect the priorities of our families. And we have tremendous challenges ahead of us.
On health care we need, in the coming year, to advance health care IT and to extend dental care for children so that no child in any county ever dies because of an inability to get dental treatment for a tooth ache. (Applause)
There are also thousands of Marylanders returning from service in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The modern day Maryland 400, if you will. And they were there for us. They went there for us, and we need to be there for them. And thatís why I ask for your support and engagement on a series of bills, that the Lt. Governor has also been working on, to ensure that their health and well-being is protected when they come home to Maryland. We owe that to them. (Applause)
On improving Marylandís Homeland Security and preparedness many efforts are underway to better integrate emergency preparedness, emergency information sharing, and finally, to bring into service for the first time a truly statewide Ė thatís a small S on statewide -- a truly statewide system of interoperable communications so that all of our first responders will be able to talk to each other in the event of a large emergency.
I ask for your support as we bring former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who I understand is with us today, to Maryland to assess our level of preparedness and make recommendations for making Maryland safer and better prepared in the face of natural and manmade threats.
On the health of the Bay, we have to continue to search for ways to make farming more profitable, we have to move as quickly as we can to upgrade our water treatment facilities and treatment plants. We also have to move quickly to fulfill our obligations with the District of Columbia and our other neighbors in the Bay watershed, importantly on this score, Pennsylvania and Virginia, in order to preserve and ultimately expand forest cover.
Last year you passed the Stormwater Management Act and you also passed the Clean Cars Act. This year I will ask for your support and for your ideas as we search for ways to update our Critical Area Law, so that massive developments like the Four Seasons project on Kent Island, are prohibited at the first step in the process and not at the last step. Right, Governor Hughes? (Applause)
On education we must find better ways to recruit great principals to our most challenged schools, to improve outcomes in science, technology and engineering and math. Right, Chancellor Kerwin?
And we must do a better job of listening to our teachers in a regular systematic way, so that we are constantly improving the learning process and improving the working conditions in our classrooms that are so very essential to recruiting and retaining the highest quality teachers we possibly can for our kids.
And we also have to rededicate ourselves to reducing our drop-out rate with better career and technical programs available to high schools in every district where kids want them. (Applause)
On workforce creation I also ask for your support on proposals that will reduce the nursing shortage that exists throughout our State, and on our broader efforts to equip the 750,000 chronically under-educated adults in Maryland with the skills that they need to compete and to win and to care for their families in this new economy. We can and we must do better on this score. Workforce is critically important to Marylandís economic future. We have to build a new system for educating our adults and harnessing the potential of our entire workforce. Every single person matters.
There are Marylanders with disabilities who are talented and hardworking and want to get into the workforce with just a little bit of help and training.
Also, there are new Americans who remind us every day, in the words of Marylandís Harriet Tubman, that we were all once strangers in a strange land. And they have brought their talents here to build a better Maryland.
We must also better align the education needs of our adults with the workforce needs of our employers and I urge you to support our proposal to bring our adult education system into the 21st Century. (Applause)
In terms of our pursuit of a more sustainable future for the land, the air, the water that we share, I urge your support for new legislation to promote transit-oriented development. (Applause)
I also look forward to working with you in the development of science, technology and public education that it will take to combat climate change and improve energy conservation and energy efficiency and to make Maryland a leader in the development of renewable energy and green building techniques of all kinds.
Our country needs us and weíve got to be there in the forefront. (Applause)
And of course, in order to protect Marylandís future, we must address Marylandís energy needs.
The task before us, as you so well know, is to develop a long-term plan for energy generation, distribution, and conservation. And it will not be easy. It will take a sustained commitment from our political leadership to turn that vision over time into reality. The days of cheap abundant energy are past, but that does not mean that our only options are crippling energy bills and rolling brown-outs.
In the coming weeks, in the coming months, and in the coming years, we are going to be undertaking a number of efforts -- legislative, regulatory -- and, if need be, legal -- to secure fair and reasonable energy rates while also ensuring an adequate supply for our future. Deregulation has failed us in Maryland and we cannot allow our future to be determined by that mistake. We have to move forward. (Applause)
In conclusion, my friends, the most important days in life are not always the easy days.
As we work our way through the important and difficult days ahead, letís not forget the good that God has given us in our lives, of our families, of our friends, of our neighbors, and all of the people in this State, where our diversity is our strength, that we call home, our fellow Marylanders.
Letís stay focused on the fact that people are counting on us to make these tough times more bearable. Letís work together -- regardless of personality, regardless of party or place -- to face the challenges ahead.
We know that Maryland is a stronger State than most. We can get through these tough economic times more quickly than other parts of our country, but only if we continue to come together to protect the priorities that make us strong.
We come here to make a positive difference for our neighbors; thatís why we come here. Thatís what Senator Britt did and thatís what Delegate Lawton did. And thatís what we are going to continue to do. We must take it from here, Bishop Muse, striving to do all that we can for the working people we have the privilege to serve and the one Maryland we carry in our hearts.
God bless you all and thank you. (Applause)
[ Read the press release - Listen to audio mp3 ]
January 23, 2008