- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Maryland’s General Assembly will meet in a special session May 14 to finish work on the fiscal 2013 budget Maryland’s governor confirmed Friday, but further details will not be released until this morning.
“There is too much at stake not to move forward,” Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said in a statement. “I’m confident that we can come together with the Senate President and House Speaker to complete this most important work for the people of our State.”
O’Malley will announce more details on the session, which is likely to last two or three days, with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) at a press conference this morning in Annapolis.
Legislative leaders said this week that they are very close to an agreement on completing the budget.
The governor said April 24 that 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 so-called “doomsday” budget.
“I think we’ll deal with it in a two-day session, May 14 and May 15, perhaps May 16, but it will get done,” Miller told reporters last week, before Friday’s official announcement.
During the regular session, budget negotiations between the House and Senate stalled regarding whether income taxes should be raised for those making less than $100,000. Although an agreement was reached late in the day April 9, the stalemate — which some say became entwined with the question of whether to expand gambling in the state — prevented lawmakers from passing a tax package to accompany the budget bill before the legislature adjourned that night.
If the legislature does not act by July 1, a default budget will take effect, cutting more than $500 million effective July 1.
It would cut funding for K-12 education by $44 per student and higher education by 10 percent. Local law enforcement grants, stem cell research funding, biotechnology tax credits and 500 state jobs would be wiped out. State agencies would have to slash their budgets by 8 percent and state employees would lose a 2 percent pay raise.
Busch and Miller have been divided over where the new budget negotiations should begin.
In a letter sent to both the speaker and O’Malley last month, Miller suggested a compromise that would lower the threshold for the increase from an adjusted gross income of $100,000 for a single filer to an adjusted gross income of $75,000, which Miller said would correspond to an overall income of $100,000. This would generate more revenues but “not tax salaries below levels sought by the House,” he wrote.
Busch told reporters last week that he thought a budget compromise should be close to the agreement reached April 9.
“We left being very close and it’s pretty to safe to say we’ve got a good plan that will allow us to move forward, get in there and get it wrapped up and be out of town very quickly,” Del. John L. Bohanan Jr. (D-St. Mary’s) said.
House Republicans argue that a special session is not worth the cost to taxpayers and the state should just accept the default budget, which is nearly $700 million more than the fiscal 2012 spending plan, the group says.
“I think it’s the worst possible time to be considering raising taxes,” House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) said. “We have a budget that passed that increases spending by $700 million over the previous year, and that should be enough to get by without raising taxes in the worst economy in 75 years.”
A special session could cost about $25,000 per day, according to the Department of Legislative Services.
“I’m disappointed that [O’Malley is] even having to call [a special session],” Del. Peter F. Murphy (D-Charles) said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this work could have been finished in the regular session and should have been.”
Murphy said it was imperative for lawmakers to finish their work as quickly as possible so that local governments can get started on their own budgets.
Bohanan expressed confidence that the House would have the votes needed to approve both tax increases and a partial shift of the cost of teachers’ pensions to the counties.
“I think most people recognize it’s something that makes sense,” Bohanan said. “We can’t turn our back at this point on families trying to send their kids to college, state employees that haven’t had a pay raise in forever, and add on top of that another 500 state employees being fired. It’s just not a good time to leave that business undone.”
But O’Donnell said Republicans plan to dig in and “argue the case as we have continuously that Maryland citizens should not be kicked while they’re down by taking their hard-earned money at a time when it’s tough to make ends meet.”
“The fact of the matter is it’s not a fait accompli that the votes are there” to raise taxes, he added.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) expressed relief that the special session would only deal with budget matters, but said he fully expects a second special session to be called later in the summer to consider an expansion of casino gaming into Prince George’s County.
“I think that is a guarantee,” Wilson said. “Anybody who has anything to do with politics knows that is going to happen.”
The state currently has five approved locations for slot machine facilities. Miller has been a chief proponent of constructing a sixth casino at National Harbor in Oxon Hill and allowing table games at all six.
O’Donnell called holding one special session “an inherently bad idea” and scheduling another “doubly outrageous.”
Lawmakers receive stipends for travel, food and lodging while in session, but Murphy has decided to not take any such reimbursement next week.
“I just think that under the circumstances it’s inappropriate to take that money,” he said.
Staff writer Danielle Gaines contributed to this report.