O'Malley's State of the State address criticized as flat
Delegate: Governor may have missed chance to tout bills
ANNAPOLIS Lawmakers said Gov. Martin O'Malley missed an opportunity to use his annual State of the State address to advocate for a pair of foundering business initiatives he has proposed for the 2010 General Assembly.
In a 27-minute speech Tuesday, O'Malley (D) revealed no new programs or legislative initiatives. But, in single sentences, he asked lawmakers to pass his plan to reduce the cost of unemployment insurance, and his tax credit for businesses that hire someone off the state's unemployment rolls.
"Upon some reflection, he may have taken an opportunity to press a little harder on those two pieces of legislation," said Del. Brian J. Feldman, who chairs the Montgomery County delegation. "In hindsight, he might have missed the opportunity to push those two bills."
In a jobs-oriented speech, O'Malley mentioned the word "job" or "jobs" 29 times and "joblessness" once.
O'Malley was interrupted by applause 16 times. The strongest reaction came at an attempt at inspiration: "The recession will end. Our journey is not over. And our best days are still in front of us."
He then received a 20-second standing ovation.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell said the speech lacked substance.
"He talked about government creating jobs and the necessary role of government creating jobs," said O'Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby. "The reality is we need the private sector to create jobs. He has just decimated, through policy decisions, private sector development of jobs."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas McLain Middleton said O'Malley could have made a stronger case for his legislation.
"If I were in his shoes and I knew that I had put a proposal out there that I thought was going to be beneficial to the business community ... I would have really pushed and pushed hard for it," said Middleton (D-Dist. 28) of Waldorf.
The governor's lack of detail may not have been an oversight, considering the amount of discussion the topics have gotten in Annapolis and in home districts, said Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Dist. 28) of Bryantown.
"We've certainly had a fairly extensive education on this topic, especially the committee members," she said, referring to the House Economic Matters Committee, on which she serves.
Del. Warren E. Miller (R-Dist. 9A) of Woodbine said he was surprised O'Malley made the unemployment insurance bill such an important priority this session before getting a read on the chambers. Businesses have testified that they do not like the prospect of paying for an expansion of benefits.
"He's putting a lot of capital into an unknown," said Miller, an Economic Matters Committee member.
"Basically, not enough, too late," said Sen. Barry Glassman (R-Dist. 35) of Churchville.
Glassman said businesses and contractors for the Base Realignment and Closure Implementation Committee are not in a position to hire workers, even with a tax credit.
"They're in a business quandary, trying to hold on rather than hire new employees," he said.
Matthew A. Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said he did not think the tax credit would sway many companies to start hiring.
"Businesses don't hire people because they get $3,000, they go out and hire because of the demand for another employee," Crenson said.
And he said O'Malley likely did not change any votes.
"It's partly an artifact of his oratorical style. He doesn't come across as very forceful when he gets behind the podium," Crenson said.
The speech was not meant to go into detail, but to show that the difficulties businesses face are on his agenda, Crenson said.
"In a down-turned economy he tried to create a hopeful picture," he said.
But while the governor says the right things, Crenson said, "He isn't a strong enough speaker to be completing convincing."
O'Malley can talk about the economy generally, leaving out specifics about legislation, Feldman said.
"I think you can talk about jobs without getting bogged down in a speech like that with the details," said Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac.
Plus, the unemployment insurance is a complex issue: "It's not a simple bill that lends itself to a 10-second sound bite."
When businesses testified before the Senate Finance Committee, they were solidly opposed to the measure, said Sen. John Astle, the committee's vice chairman.
"If there's going to be an outcome," Jameson said, "it is probably not in the form as we currently have it. We're all hearing from our business communities, and they're not happy."
And that opposition might cause the governor to back off and defer to the will of the legislature, Feldman said.
"He may not want to expend a great deal of political capital on two bills that are facing a measure of resistance and therefore risk more political capital by highlighting them in the State of the State," he said.
Staff Writer Douglas Tallman contributed to this report.