- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland General Assembly passed a $260 million tax increase Wednesday as it adjourned from a three-day special session that ended with Gov. Martin O'Malley saying he will bring lawmakers back for another session this summer.

The House gave final approval to two bills that will raise income taxes and shift a portion of teacher pension costs to counties to balance the state’s $35.5 billion budget, which is nearly $1 billion larger than last year’s spending plan.

The Senate passed the legislation Tuesday. It will be signed by the governor at a yet-to-be-determined date.

“We’ve not only been able to do the tough things on revenues to balance the budget, but we’ve also been able to protect our priorities,” said Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat.

House members debated the bills for three hours Wednesday with Republicans and some Democrats railing against the revenue package as overburdening on taxpayers and local governments.

“This is going to affect two-income working families,” said Delegate Ariana B. Kelly, Montgomery Democrat.

The majority of Democrats - who control more than two-thirds of the chamber - favored the bills. They argued the measures will help the state by providing more money for public education and health services.

“We’re doing things for the community,” said Delegate Dereck E. Davis, Prince George’s Democrat. “Those are the people that we’re trying to help with this budget.”

Lawmakers voted 77-60 in favor of a bill that will raise income-tax rates and lower the value of personal exemptions for single residents making more than $100,000 and couples making more than $150,000.

They also voted 86-51 in favor of a bill that will phase in a teacher pension cost-sharing program over the next four years, and reverse more than $400 million in budget cuts that were slated to go into effect after the assembly adjourned last month without passing a revenue package.

Republicans assailed the bills, arguing that the tax hikes are disproportionately aimed at families and small businesses and that shifting pension costs to counties could lead to local cuts and tax increases.

“Liberal one-party rule has bred legislators who view hard-working taxpayers as nothing more than an ATM,” said state GOP Chairman Alex X. Mooney.

While lawmakers left Annapolis on Wednesday, they likely will be coming back in two or three months.

The governor said he will call another special session in July or August to decide whether to expand the state’s slots gambling by legalizing table games and adding a casino in Prince George’s County.

Senate leaders favor expanded gambling, but there has been strong skepticism from House leaders and the governor.

Mr. O'Malley said lawmakers could also choose to bring up other issues during the session, such as legislation to soften a recent court ruling that classifies pit bulls as an “inherently dangerous” breed of dog.

Mr. O'Malley also hinted he would like to see lawmakers consider a revenue package to raise money for road and transit projects.

The governor floated proposals earlier this year to fund transportation by increasing the gas or sales tax, but House Speaker Michael E. Busch said this week that any such proposal is a long shot with current gas prices.

“I find that highly doubtful, unless gas goes to $1.25 a gallon,” said Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat.