With two special sessions possible, groups want their bills considered -- Gazette.Net


As the clock struck midnight on Sine Die, many Annapolis insiders were struck by the number of significant bills, most notably the budget, that failed to pass both chambers.

With Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) indicating this week that he could call two special sessions — one in May to pass a revenue bill to accompany the budget and one later in the summer to consider an expansion of gaming in the state -— the door has been opened to lobbyists, interest groups and lawmakers looking to reintroduce old measures or new legislation altogether.

“This is really unchartered territory for Maryland,” said Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute. “Certainly there are a lot of side issues still in play. I hope the legislature will have the discipline to come in, fix the budget and leave the ancillary issues for a later time.”

O’Malley has said that passing the state budget is his first priority and he will not call a special session until budget negotiators from both chambers have agreed to a compromise revenue package and Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act bill.

A budget resolution is necessary before May 23, when the state’s Board of Public Works will meet to consider $130 million in cuts required to balance the “doomsday budget,” O’Malley said.

“We probably need to resolve this budget issue separate and apart from issues affecting the future of gaming in Maryland, and we need to resolve those budget issues quickly,” O’Malley said in Baltimore. “We’re kind of under the clock right now. Either we resolve the budget in the next couple of weeks, or those cuts go into effect.”

If the budget is resolved in May, the General Assembly could reconvene to consider gambling bills in August, which would be early enough to allow a ballot question on the matter.

“I think that both issues deserve a hearing and some resolution,” O’Malley said. “I think that what made this session very disappointing, frustrating by the end, was considering both of those issues at the same time.”

But the governor has no sway over whether lawmakers will introduce additional bills, and lawmakers already have spent three weeks away from the State House to consider new measures.

During a conference call Tuesday, a group of black leaders from business, faith and community organizations said they would call for a second look at O’Malley’s wind energy proposal, which would add a surcharge to electric bills to jump-start offshore wind development off the coast of Ocean City.

Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville said he would like the legislature to reconsider a plan to raise transportation revenue in one of the special sessions.

“Our economic future depends on transportation funding,” Luedtke said. “We need to do something, and we need to do it soon. It should be, after the budget, priority number one.”

Montgomery County House Delegation Chairman Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac said just days after the session ended that he also wanted to see transportation funding on a special session agenda, noting that 2014 re-election bids could dampen lawmakers’ appetites to raise money for the fund in 2013.

Lobbyist Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said though the compromise budget that was left on the table at the end of session has a smaller tax increase on tobacco products than he would have liked, he supports the compromise deal in the interest of seeing the full budget plan passed quickly.

“Many Marylanders would be hurt very badly if these cuts go into effect,” DeMarco said. “At this point, I think our goal is to get them to pass what the conferees already agreed to.”

Bergsman’s organization signed onto a letter with more than 50 other organizations Thursday that asks Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis to approve a compromise budget plan quickly, although it mentions no specific aspects of the budget.

House Republicans argued this week that a special session is not worth the cost to taxpayers and that the state should accept the default budget, which is nearly $700 million more than the fiscal 2012 budget, the group says.

A special session could cost about $25,000 per day, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

The prospect of yet another session to deal with gaming was even worse, said Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Dist. 37B) of Newcomb.

“We had 90 days to get this done,” she said.

Staff Writer Daniel Leaderman contributed to this report.