- The Washington Times - Monday, November 19, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — House and Senate lawmakers worked early into the morning today to pass $1.3 billion in tax increases and ask voters to legalize up to 15,000 slot machines in five locations across the state.

Lawmakers approved increasing the sales tax 20 percent and expanding it to computer services, increasing the corporate income tax to 8.25 percent and the personal income tax on high-wage earners to 5.5 percent.

Lawmakers also approved a constitutional amendment that would place up to 15,000 slot machines at locations in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties and Baltimore. Residents will vote on the slots plan in November 2008.

“I think it reflected the needs and the ability to pull together and do what’s in the best interest of the state of Maryland,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch after he gavelled the session to a close at about 2:15 a.m.. “This was a tough undertaking. It was something that obviously has been the product of five years to come to fruition.” But House Republicans cautioned against celebrating the passage of the budget plan. Certainly let’s not start thinking about dropping confetti and popping champagne corks, said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign the bills at 3 p.m. today at a press conference with Mr. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Mr. O'Malley called lawmakers to Annapolis on Oct. 29 to consider his broad-ranging tax and slots plan for closing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall. The plan was vetted and amended over three weeks of hearings, vote-wrangling and private meetings among Democratic leaders. Regular sessions last three months. Republican leaders said they expect to spend much of the 2008 regular session, which begins in about six weeks, clarifying and correcting legislation they said was rushed through the General Assembly with little understanding from the lawmakers who voted on the measures “No one knows the details of the plan,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican. “It’s absolutely flabbergasting.” Lawmakers also approved spending on $250 million on expanded health care, $50 million for a Chesapeake Bay clean-up fund, $450 million on new transportation projects and $110 million for new Medevac helicopters. Mr. O'Malley was unable to secure a gas tax increase and property tax cut he sought when he introduced his plan.

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