Gov. Ehrlich in Hughesville

The Bay Net photo by Sean Rice 

Saying that Maryland’s future has never been brighter, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. called on legislators Thursday to put partisan differences aside and address a series of issues ranging from slot machine gambling and horse racing to stem cell research and higher education funding.

In a 45-minute State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly, Ehrlich gave legislators a sweeping defense of his first three years in office, saying the state was in “serious trouble” when he took over in 2003.

But, listing what he regarded as his accomplishments, including a budget turnaround from a $4 billion deficit to $1 billion surplus; increased education funding; the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund; and thousands of new military-related jobs that will be coming to Maryland, Ehrlich said the state is now on the right track.

“Maryland is strong and prosperous, we are growing a vibrant, knowledge-based economy, and our future has never been brighter,” he said.

But Democrats like Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, dismissed Ehrlich’s speech as election year spin.

“I thought it was a potential copyright violation of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the black is white, and up is down stuff,” Frosh said. “He says that the University of Maryland is on a roll . . . it’s rolling down a hill.”

Other critics were less pointed.

“The Governor has taken credit for a lot of things that we in fact have done in the legislature,” said House majority leader Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery.

At the end of the speech, Ehrlich looked ahead to the remainder of the session, calling on lawmakers from both parties to work together to pass legislation for the good of the state. He has suffered repeated defeats at the hands of Democratic legislators in the first three weeks of this politically-charged General Assembly session.

“We only fail our citizens when politics trumps policy,” he said. “The majority of Marylanders do not even follow the daily dispatches from Annapolis. Most simply want safer streets, schools that work, a cleaner Bay and a job that pays the bills and enables them to put some money aside for a rainy day.”

Ehrlich, as he did in last year’s speech, admonished legislators for the “Capitol Hill-style” politics that he said have become all too common in the Maryland General Assembly.

“We can disagree on issues, they come and go. But the culture stays. And to the extent the culture gets sick, the state is sick because we are the representatives of the people,’ he said.

Some Democrats were quick to argue that Ehrlich was playing politics, trying to make himself appear more moderate than he actually is by flaunting his proposed $2.1 billion budget increase.

“It was an election year speech and it was very upbeat, but it wasn’t truthful,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Southern Maryland. “You can’t cut taxes and spend like a drunken sailor at the same time. If you did this in a family, you’d be in the poor house.”

Republicans, however, were full of praise for Ehrlich.