ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley will press for greater infrastructure spending in this year to continue job growth that he said stacks up well against Maryland’s neighbors’.
The state lost some 140,000 jobs during the Great Recession, a contraction of 5.3 percent. But since the labor market sank to its lowest point in February 2010, Maryland has added 56,900 jobs, including 26,700 in the first 11 months of 2011.
The December jobs report is due out this month.
“There is some reason to believe we’re making some progress here,” O’Malley said Thursday in a meeting with reporters.
The governor said he would take a “balanced” approach to bridging a $1 billion budget deficit heading into fiscal 2013.
Asked if he would call for tax increases to go along with inevitable cuts, O’Malley said “Yes, perhaps.”
“We are looking at putting forward a budget that is not only balanced and fiscally responsible, that not only has the courage to make cuts but also has the foresight to protect priorities that allow our state to emerge from this recession better than other states,” O’Malley said. “We need educate, we need to innovate, we need to build.”
Maryland has added back nearly 41 percent of the jobs lost to the recession while Virginia, the state most often stacked up against Maryland when judging the Old Line State’s economic performance, has added back 30 percent, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that O’Malley referenced.
Virginia enjoys a lower unemployment rate than Maryland — 6.2 percent versus 6.9 percent in November — but BLS data shows much of Virginia’s growth is due to government expansion south of the Potomac.
Virginia saw 3,300 new private-sector jobs added last year, and 7,600 government positions. In Maryland, 26,300 of the jobs created in 2011 came from the private sector and just 400 from government.
Even so, Maryland’s construction sector has lagged along with the housing market.
O’Malley said Thursday he will push for more state construction dollars in the capital budget and through the Department of Transportation.
“You’ll see a capital budget that is strong, that puts the public oars in the water to drive hiring, particularly in construction and trades,” O’Malley said.
He did not delve into specifics of the proposals he’ll put forward when the General Assembly reconvenes next week.
“The price of a gallon of gas is down from the $4 peak and somehow we have to figure out how to make the modern investments that a modern economy requires,” O’Malley said.
Major business groups, including the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and Greater Baltimore Committee, have backed an increase to the state’s gasoline tax and are pressing for assurances that transportation funds will not be raided to balance the budget.
The gas tax has been 23.5 cents per gallon since 1992.
But not all business interests are on board.
“We think it’s poor public policy at this point in time in Maryland,” said Jim Pettit, spokesman for Maryland Business for Responsive Government. “We’ve seen record tax increases in 2007. We saw the alcohol tax last year. At this point there doesn’t seem to be any end to revenue increases in Maryland.”
Republican lawmakers have chastised O’Malley for an “insatiable appetite to spend more money.”
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding recommended in October that the General Assembly raise the gas tax by 15 cents over three years and then index the levy to inflation.
That would bring in an additional $498 million per year when fully implemented.
The commission also recommended a raft of other fee and tax increases to bring in an additional $300 million. Those included doubling the cost of emission inspections to $28 and increasing vehicle registration fees, the titling tax on new and used cars, transit fares and a range of fees at the Motor Vehicle Administration.