ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Gov. Martin O'Malley pushes for policies to grow the middle class and an increase in Maryland's minimum wage during his final State of the State address Thursday in Annapolis.
O'Malley, who is barred by state law from seeking a third term in office, reflected on guiding Maryland through the height of the national recession and the choices that needed to be made during that time. He also spoke of the strides made in public education and seeing the DREAM Act and same-sex marriage become law in the state during his two terms in office.
But, O'Malley said for the economy to continue to improve locally, more needs to be done to help expand the middle class.
"We've lost sight of how our economy works, when it is working well," O'Malley said. "Prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top. It never has. It's built from the middle out—and from the middle up."
A big part of accomplishing that goal, O'Malley said is by increasing the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2016. The debate over the minimum wage is expected to be one of the most heated during the session.
There are mixed feelings about how to approach the minimum wage statewide. Already, Prince George's and Montgomery counties have passed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017.
"When every worker earns more money, every business has more customers, and – by the way – every taxpayer is relieved from funding poverty programs for workers who are being paid poverty-level wages…" O'Malley said. "No person who works full-time and plays by the rules should be forced to raise their family in poverty. Not in our state"
In his speech, O'Malley said his administration has the smallest executive branch since 1973, and the budget he presented to the General Assembly last week is expected to eliminate the state's structural deficit in the next few years.
O'Malley also points out that Maryland in one of only seven states that has maintained a triple-A bond rating all through the recession. In addition, O'Malley said the state $800 million dollars in its Rainy Day fund, an operating surplus of $37 million for this upcoming fiscal year.
The governor also said that this generation "wants its government to be accountable for its action, and accountable for the results we seek." He highlighted that his administration has posted online 16 strategic goals to help the state progress in the areas of job creation, education, security, sustainability, and health.
"On some of these [goals], we've already exceeded our initial goals," O'Malley said. "On others, we're making progress. And on a few, we have a longer way to go.
"Progress requires accountability. But accountability means putting your commitment out there, for all of us to know and see, and hopefully to help drive."
Del. Ron George, an Anne Arundel County Republican running for governor himself, worked to disprove O'Malley's claims.
George said small businesses have seen their taxes rise tremendously under the O'Malley/Brown administration. In addition, job creators have been burdened with the "rain tax," implementation of Obamacare and a potential forced wage increase.
"The O'Malley/Brown administration has seen the relocation of thousands of small businesses and tens of thousands of taxpayers due to a hostile state government," said George in a statement.
"Our mom and pop shops, who employ the majority of our workers, are already struggling to stay open. We must focus on expanding opportunities for entrepreneurs and technical training for our unemployed to protect and grow our middle class for generations to come."