O'Malley's Tenure Marked by Legislative Struggles and Victories - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

O'Malley's Tenure Marked by Legislative Struggles and Victories on Social Issues

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Gov. Martin O'Malley spent nearly all of his eight-year tenure struggling against the Great Recession and its aftermath to maintain record spending on state schools - and raising taxes to help pay for education and other priorities. The Democratic governor also won a string of legislative victories on social issues over the years to create a liberal resume for a potential presidential run in 2016.

As O'Malley leaves office Wednesday, his willingness to push through a variety of often unpopular tax increases to avoid bigger cuts will characterize his legacy, along with wins appealing to liberals such as legalizing same-sex marriage and raising the minimum wage. He also made environmental concerns a priority and, despite his misgivings, paved the way to developing casino gambling in the state.

"Sometimes tough choices are necessary," O'Malley told reporters last week while recapping his tenure in Annapolis. "It's easy to vote to increase funding. It's hard to vote for the revenues that support that increased funding, but we've gone from $4 billion a year invested in public education to $6 billion in a pretty short period of time and in a recession."

O'Malley's management of budget problems defined his tenure. From increases in taxes, fees and tolls to borrowing and budget cuts, shortfalls were nearly always present, and it was the cutting that was hardest for the governor with big ambitions.

"Each one of these cuts here became successively more difficult, if part of your goal was not only to cut - any nitwit can cut - but to cut in ways that did not harm our strength, and our forward movement and the progress that we were achieving for our children's better future," O'Malley said this month.

Through it all, O'Malley has always been quick to note Maryland is one of only seven states to maintain the AAA bond rating from three main rating agencies throughout the recession and its aftermath, a sign of fiscal health. The governor also likes to mention that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has named Maryland the top state for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Over the years, O'Malley often fought for social issues. Two became ballot questions approved by voters in 2012: legalizing same-sex marriage and allowing students who are not in the country legally to pay in-state tuition at colleges if they or their parents pay taxes. In 2013, he successfully pushed for a ban on the death penalty in the state. That same year he won passage of a sweeping gun-control bill to make Maryland gun laws among the strictest in the nation.

While he was forced to grapple with challenging budget problems, O'Malley benefited from a Legislature controlled by Democrats, with experienced leadership in House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

"He did have a General Assembly that worked hand in glove with him," Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said in a recent interview. "I mean, it's not that we didn't disagree, but he was open to disagreement. We had a give and take with Gov. O'Malley over things that we supported and didn't support, and some you won and some you lost, but ... at least there was an ability to compromise at some stage of the game."

There also were some glaring lapses, which will make prime fodder for political opponents if O'Malley seeks higher office. The dreadful rollout of the state's health care exchange website was a major embarrassment, after talk of making Maryland a national model for health care reform. There also was a lurid contraband scandal in 2013 that showed inmates skirting security at a large state-run jail in Baltimore to an alarming degree, even impregnating security guards.

However, his pushes for sometimes unpopular tax hikes more often defined him. In 2007, his package of increases that included hikes to the sales, tobacco and corporate income taxes brought in $1.4 billion, which helped address a budget shortfall and Medicaid expansion. The taxes were approved just weeks before the recession's start.

Despite the tax hikes and tough times, O'Malley won re-election in 2010, defeating former Gov. Robert Ehrlich in a rematch by an even wider margin than their first race in 2006.

More taxes, fees and toll increases would follow, as state revenues dropped. In 2012, he backed a "flush tax" on sewer bills and a stormwater management fee dubbed the "rain tax" by critics. In 2013, O'Malley won the first increase to the state's gas tax in 20 years.

The tax increases showed O'Malley was willing to sign difficult legislation, but they also may have given voters an incentive to elect Republican Larry Hogan in 2014, even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1.

Del. Anthony O'Donnell, who served as the House minority leader for most of the governor's tenure, said O'Malley was "a very engaging governor." But, he said, the negative consequences of the tax increases and other fiscal policies will be felt for years.

"Larry Hogan was a great candidate and will be a great governor, but no one can deny the fact that fatigue of Martin O'Malley fiscal policy really caused people to say: 'I don't want a third term of Martin O'Malley embodied in Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown,'" O'Donnell said.

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