- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Aside from the occasional ego clash, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch have forged an effective working relationship, advancing Democratic social and economic policies without much resistance or infighting among party lawmakers.

That changed Monday when the General Assembly adjourned without passing a set of tax increases and revenue enhancements that all three Democrats considered a cornerstone of this year’s budget.

Lawmakers ran out of time on the measures, causing a so-called “doomsday budget” to go into effect. The budget calls for $512 million in cuts starting July 1, unless the governor calls a special session before then during which lawmakers could pass new revenues and undo the cuts.

The failure to pass revenues in the Democrat-controlled legislature left the governor and members of the House pointing their fingers at the Senate, accusing members of dragging their feet on 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 in what Mr. O'Malley called “the low point” of his five years as governor.

“It was pretty far away from the plan that I submitted to the legislature, which is really a damn shame,” the governor said Tuesday at a bill signing, as he sat alongside Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch.

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 healthcare disparities.

They sat shoulder-to-shoulder and made little eye contact during the subdued ceremony, which was preceded by comments from all three men that focused largely on Monday’s budget failure.

Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, 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.”

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

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, defended the Senate Tuesday, arguing that 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 will hurt residents by depriving them 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 undo 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 bracing themselves for a special session that could undo the reductions.

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 will call lawmakers back to Annapolis, but Republicans blasted the idea.

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin said a special session would be a waste of taxpayer money and accused the governor of focusing on national politics while taking too small a 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, Cecil Republican. “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 Aro, executive director of Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services.

Mr. Aro said daily costs could vary, depending on how much staff the state has to employ and how many travel and lodging expenses lawmakers rack up.

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

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