Leading Maryland and Virginia, With Stars on the Rise

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Maryland and Virginia share a history rich in both rivalry and cooperation, and the same can be said for their governors.

Both Martin O'Malley, the Democrat who leads Maryland, and Bob McDonnell, his Republican counterpart in Virginia, are rising political stars. Each is chairman of his party's national governors' association, and each is a standard-bearer for his party's presidential nominee. Each is also mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate.

Some people say that much of the talk about a Maryland-Virginia face-off is overblown. As for the governors, each says that if there is in fact a rivalry, his state is winning it.

"I'm just trying to do what is right for Virginia, and I'm sure Governor O'Malley is trying to do the same, but we have different philosophies and different outcomes," said Mr. McDonnell, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates and a former state attorney general.

Much of that difference has to do with taxes. Mr. McDonnell, elected in 2009 and limited by law to one term, takes pride in his efforts to burnish Virginia's reputation as a low-tax, business-friendly state. Sales tax is 5 percent in Virginia and 6 percent in Maryland. Top-bracket income-tax payers pay 5.75 percent in Virginia while those in Maryland pay 9 percent. Virginia's corporate tax rate is 6 percent and Maryland's is 8.25 percent. Virginia's unemployment rate is 5.9 percent, compared with 7.1 percent in Maryland -- both lower than the national average.

Working with Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, Mr. McDonnell has been able to balance the state's budget without raising taxes, though critics have derided some of his solutions as gimmicks, notably some approaches to financing future state pensions. And, like other Virginia governors from both parties, he has been chided for putting off long-term investments in highways and mass transit.

Mr. O'Malley, a former Baltimore mayor, has a reputation, for better or for worse, of raising taxes -- more than 20 separate increases since becoming governor in 2008. It is a legacy that a Republican opponent might find an irresistible target if Mr. O'Malley ever runs for president.

Early in his first term he called a special session in the General Assembly that resulted in $1.4 billion in increases in taxes on sales, tobacco, personal income and corporations. He also levied a temporary tax on millionaires. More recently, with the state facing a $1 billion budget deficit in 2013, he signed a tax increase on Maryland's top earners that ensured them one of the highest income tax rates in the country.

Mr. O'Malley argues that tax rates are just one measure of a state's standing.

"On the other side of the river, especially under Governor McDonnell, they would have you believe that it all begins and ends with tax rate," Mr. O'Malley said. "We all strive to be competitive on that score." He added, "But there are other things that determine whether or not your state is well-equipped and whether your children are more likely to be winners or losers in a changing economy."

He mentioned that Maryland is first in median income, while Virginia is eighth, and that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Maryland first in innovation and entrepreneurship, while  Virginia again ranks eighth. He also noted that Maryland had the fourth-highest percentage of workers in "green jobs," in 2010, compared with Virginia at 20th, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Green Goods and Services Survey released in March.

Mr. O'Malley noted that Education Week ranks his state as No. 1 in K-12 public education. He also argued that he has been more committed to investing in public education than has Mr. McDonnell. For the 2012-13 school year, Virginia's financing for K-12 education decreased by 10 percent compared with 2008 levels, while Maryland's investment increased 7.4 percent.

Mr. O'Malley says he has invested in human capital to urge Maryland toward "building an economy for the future that will last," through maximizing educational attainment, developing worker skills and focusing on emerging sectors including life sciences and biotechnology.

The roles of Mr. O'Malley and Mr. McDonnell as leaders of their governors' associations put them on a national stage as stewards of their parties' message and approach to governance. There are now 29 states with Republican governors, 20 headed by Democrats and one with an independent. Eleven states have governors' elections this year.

"Yeah, I want to win as many governors' races as I can," Mr. McDonnell said. "But not because I'm in competition with Governor O'Malley, but because I really do believe the 29 Republican governors are doing some unique things in reforming government in their states and giving new birth to federalism. Because they focus on fiscal responsibility and low taxes and limited government they are getting better results for their people."

He added, "I say this not just about Virginia and Maryland, but I could say it about Wisconsin and Illinois or other Republican governors."

Mr. O'Malley, of course, is not so upbeat about the impact of Republican governors.

"Some of these newly elected governors who were elected in 2010 or even 2009 promised they would restore the economy," Mr. O'Malley said. "Instead when they got in, they governed by rolling back individual rights -- rolling back women's rights, rolling back voters' rights, rolling back workers' rights. The people in a lot of the states -- Ohio, Florida and others -- are scratching their heads and feeling a bit of buyer's remorse for putting in people with such a narrow right-wing ideology."

Despite their differences, Mr. O'Malley, 49, and Mr. O'Donnell, 58, are friendly on the regional level and have more in common than just their Irish-Catholic backgrounds and rising fame. They have worked together on regional issues, including the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, public safety in the capital region and transportation issues. By most accounts, the men and their staffs have a good working relationship with each other.

Both men said they would be open to a different type of partnership: "I understand he is a pretty good guitar player," Mr. McDonnell said of Mr. O'Malley, who plays and sings in an Irish rock band. "We ought to get together; I play the drums, although I don't play them well."

Mr. O'Malley sounded intrigued by the prospect.

"Does he have a practice tape or anything he can send us?" he asked. "I'd love to jam with him, it'd be fun. I'm totally open -- music is nonpartisan."

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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