- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday that the General Assembly’s failure to pass a set of tax increases and revenue enhancements considered a cornerstone of this year’s budget marked “the low point” of his five years in office.

Lawmakers ran out of time on the measures when the session expired at midnight Monday, causing a so-called “doomsday budget” to go into effect. The state is facing some $512 million in cuts starting July 1 unless the governor calls a special session before then to generate more revenue and reverse budget cuts, which he seems likely to do.

But a visibly agitated Mr. O'Malley declined during a bill-signing ceremony Tuesday morning to say whether he would call lawmakers back to Annapolis. He focused his comments instead on the failure to pass a budget, despite Democratic control of the governorship and both houses of the state legislature.

“It was pretty far away from the plan that I submitted to the legislature, which is really a damn shame,” Mr. O'Malley said as he sat alongside Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

The three leaders have forged an effective working relationship, advancing Democratic social and economic policies without much resistance or infighting among party lawmakers. But the governor and members of the House pointed the blame of failure at the Senate, accusing its members of delaying budget negotiations in an attempt to coerce the House into passing a bill to expand gambling in the state to include table games and a casino in Prince George’s County.

The gambling bill and revenue bills died when the assembly closed Monday night.

The three leaders met Tuesday to sign their first batch of bills from the session, which included legislation to toughen requirements on local education funding and reduce socioeconomic health care disparities.

They sat shoulder to shoulder but made little eye contact during the subdued ceremony, which was preceded by comments from all three men.

Mr. Busch, of Anne Arundel County, said House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement too late for his chamber to consider the bill. He accused Senate leaders Monday of “slow-playing” the revenue bills as a ploy to get the gambling bill passed.

“If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score a touchdown,” he said. “And if you don’t have the revenue package, you can’t make them vote on it.”

Senate leaders blamed stalled budget talks on the House’s supposed refusal to compromise or drop any of its demands.

Mr. Miller, of Prince George’s County, said his chamber “didn’t fail anybody.”

He said he expects the governor to call a special session during which lawmakers could take “one or two days” to pass tax and revenue increases that would replace the doomsday budget, which Democrats argue would deprive residents of valuable services.

“If you don’t have the chutzpah or the nerve or the guts or the gumption to pass taxes, that’s what’s going to happen,” Mr. Miller said. “Now we hope those people who don’t want to vote for revenues will say, ‘We’ll come together and we’ll make it happen.’ “

The doomsday proposal includes a slew of reductions, including the elimination of 500 state positions and cuts to education, local law enforcement and aid to the state’s less-affluent jurisdictions. Mr. Busch suggested early Tuesday after the session adjourned that some legislators might not have the political will to reverse the cuts.

The development pleased Republican lawmakers, who have long argued that the best way to create jobs and improve state finances is by cutting government spending and avoiding tax increases.

Many observers are expecting a special session.

The governor can order a special session on his own or would be required to order one if petitioned to do so by a majority of lawmakers in both chambers.

Mr. O'Malley declined to say whether he would call lawmakers back to Annapolis, but Republicans blasted the idea.

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican, said a special session would waste taxpayer money and accused the governor of focusing on national politics while taking an insufficient role in budget negotiations.

“The citizens of Maryland are sick and tired of all the proposals the governor has put forward to take money out of their pockets,” said Mr. Pipkin. “We don’t need extra time to do that.”

It is hard to predict exactly how much a special session would cost the state, said Karl S. Aro, executive director of Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services.

Mr. Aro said daily costs would depend on how much staff the state has to employ and how many travel and lodging expenses lawmakers accumulate.

He said a 21-day special session in 2007 cost the state nearly $21,000 per day.

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