- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Maryland General Assembly may need a special session in the summer of 2008 to deal with projected budget deficits, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. warned last week.

Not so fast, said other legislative leaders who think it is too soon to be talking about such a strong measure.

Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, said that while Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget for the 2008 fiscal year meets recommended guidelines, the next year will present bigger challenges without additional funding sources.

“The following year, all hell is going to break loose,” Mr. Miller said.

The Senate president supports legalizing slot-machine gambling to boost state revenues, but other legislative leaders have signaled a slots bill doesn’t have much chance of passing this year. Mr. Miller said he would support other means of raising money, including increasing the sales tax.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, is among those who think Mr. Miller was jumping the gun in talking about a special session more than a year away.

“I don’t know how he could project that,” Mr. Busch said.

He pointed out that special sessions can be ordered only by the governor to address immediate emergencies that can’t be taken care of during the General Assembly’s annual 90-day session.

Mr. Busch said Mr. O’Malley, a fellow Democrat, has proposed “a conservative budget” for the fiscal year beginning in July that meets funding requirements by balancing the state budget.

“Hopefully, the leadership of Annapolis will deal with that in the next two years,” Mr. Busch said. “I think we’re off to a positive start.”

Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat and leader of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, also said it was too soon to be alarmed about Maryland’s tax structure, which her committee began discussing last week.

“We’re coming up with ideas,” she said, adding that lawmakers would be ready to consider new taxes if needed this term.

Mr. O’Malley’s budget includes $967 million taken from the state’s rainy-day fund.

By law, Maryland must have a balanced budget. However, the projected gap over the next four years is about $5.8 billion.

• New job

He won’t be in city hall, but he still could have a hand in city government.

Three weeks after leaving office, former D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced last week that he will head a real-estate investment firm that will collaborate with local governments and nonprofits by investing in their properties.

The corporation — Public Properties Realty Investment Trust Inc. — is a subsidiary of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc., an investment firm headquartered in Arlington.

Mr. Williams, a two-term mayor who is credited with helping to restore fiscal responsibility to D.C. government, said his new project will help governments raise capital that could be used to fund projects such as schools and mixed-use developments.

However, as a former city employee, Mr. Williams is prohibited from working or contracting with the D.C. government for two years.

“It was a privilege to serve as mayor of Washington, D.C., for eight years,” he said. “And I am eager to commence this new endeavor through which I can continue to make a valuable contribution to the public sector.”

• Old friends

Maryland’s freshman Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin visited his former colleagues in the General Assembly last week, after attending the inauguration of Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Mr. Cardin, a Democrat, began his glad-handing in the state Senate with the Republican Caucus, prompting former Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican, to make note of where Mr. Cardin started.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, was quick to rebut Mr. Stoltzfus, stating that Mr. Cardin knew where the votes were. (Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state Senate 33 to 14.)

Mr. Cardin “didn’t fall off the turnip truck,” Mr. Miller said to bipartisan laughter.

• Bit of happiness

The office of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Thursday treated a group of homeless men and women to a blockbuster morning at the movies.

Mr. Fenty’s office, along with the D.C. Department of Human Services and several other city agencies, brought about 120 men and women from four area shelters to a screening of the film “The Pursuit of Happyness” at the theaters inside Union Station.

The film, starring Will Smith, is based on the story of millionaire Chris Gardner, a single father and struggling salesman who battled homelessness and jail time and went on to become a successful stockbroker.

The idea for the screening came from a comment at Mr. Fenty’s Ward 1 Transition Town Hall meeting in December.

Mr. Fenty, who did not attend the event, said the screening’s goal was “to continue to make inroads into the homeless population and give them access to the tools they need to overcome homelessness.”

• Rookie’s honor

Fireballing Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was honored Thursday by his home-state legislators in Richmond.

The 2006 American League Rookie of the Year from Goochland, Va., appeared before the House of Delegates after the General Assembly approved a resolution commending his performance last season.

Verlander, 23, standing at the rear of the House chamber with his parents and his fiancee, Emily Yuer, waved as the legislators stood to cheer him.

The right-hander, who pitched for Old Dominion University, went 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA and helped lead the Tigers to the fall’s World Series, where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. He reports to the Tigers’ spring training Feb. 15.

The House also saluted state championship football and baseball teams at Verlander’s alma mater, Goochland High School.

• No bad-word ban

The District isn’t likely to follow the example being set in a small Texas town whose mayor is trying to ban the “N-word.”

Ken Corley, mayor of Brazoria, Texas, recently proposed banning the word in the aftermath of actor Michael Richards’ rant in a Los Angeles comedy club in November.

“I’m wary about any law that infringes upon the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “But I certainly have a lot of sympathy with the point of view. I don’t think anyone should use the word, but I don’t know about a law banning its use.”

The Baltimore City Council likewise is “highly unlikely” to pursue a similar ban, council President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake said. The City Council did pass a nonbinding resolution condemning the word in 2002.

“While the motive is certainly honorable, I don’t know how it would be enforced,” Mrs. Rawlings Blake said. “I certainly loathe the word and don’t use it personally, publicly or privately, but when our courts are overloaded with the kind of crimes that really impact citizens where they live and their safety, I can’t imagine calling this kind of issue, which would definitely generate legal debate, onto our overworked courts and officers.

“I would much prefer them to protect the physical safety, rather than the emotional safety.”

Brazoria, a town of 2,800 people south of Houston, would be the first town in the nation to ban the word, Mr. Corley said.

The ordinance he proposed would make using the word a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.

• Not neutral enough

A D.C. Council member has asked Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to withdraw a nomination to the Zoning Commission, saying the nominee has a pro-development record and has exercised “very poor” ethical judgment in his position.

In a Jan. 19 letter to Mr. Fenty, council member Phil Mendelson asked the mayor to withdraw the nomination of Geoffrey Griffis, whose term as chairman of the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) expired Sept. 30, according to the BZA Web site.

Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said Mr. Griffis’ “record is not known for neutrality or evenhandedness.” Mr. Mendelson also cited a 2004 instance in which he said Mr. Griffis did not disclose an intimate relationship with a one-time board member of a nursery school seeking zoning relief from the BZA.

Mr. Mendelson also said Mr. Griffis repeatedly refused to recuse himself from the case, but when he finally did, he publicly attacked his accusers.

“Such behavior and poor judgment does not warrant promotion to membership on the Zoning Commission,” Mr. Mendelson wrote.

Mr. Griffis, who was appointed chairman of the BZA by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams, previously insisted that his relationship did not influence a decision on the nursery school.

Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said Mr. Fenty had received Mr. Mendelson’s letter, but that the nomination is still in place.

• Office space

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin will open an office on Maryland’s Eastern Shore this year, the better to deal with important issues in the region.

Mr. Cardin, a Democrat elected to the Senate in November, plans to add three other offices across the state, although the final locations haven’t been chosen, said his state press officer, Susan Sullam.

“There are a lot of issues on the Eastern Shore that are a priority, and that’s why there will be an Eastern Shore office,” Miss Sullam said.

Mr. Cardin, who sits on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, said he wants to focus on the Chesapeake Bay’s health.

• Gary Emerling, Tom LoBianco and Kristen Chick contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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