- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley and House and Senate leaders will likely reveal details Wednesday of a revenue package to be considered during next week’s special legislative session.

The governor, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., all Democrats, have spent the past month negotiating a compromise. They are expected to unveil a package similar to the one the General Assembly failed to pass last month, which would have raised income taxes on many middle- and upper-class earners and shifted a portion of teacher-pension costs onto counties.

Because these bills did not pass both houses of the assembly before it adjourned, the budget for the upcoming fiscal year lacks more than $500 million in expected revenues. The special session is expected to reinstate those revenues and prevent deep cuts.

Lawmakers will consider at least two revenue bills during the special session, which they expect to last two or three days. The bills will go through the Senate first with the Budget and Taxation Committee scheduled to hold hearings Monday.

Along with the revenue bills, the committee is also scheduled to hear testimony on a bond bill that would allot a yet-to-be-announced amount of money for renovations to public schools.

The committee would move the legislation to the full Senate for debate and passage.

Next, the bills would move to the House, where the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees will vet them before they head to the floor.

State officials said Tuesday the chambers were still in the final stages of reaching a compromise. With details mostly worked out beforehand, Democratic majorities in both chambers are expected to push the bills through with few, if any, changes.

Democratic leaders say tax increases are needed to maintain public services and reduce the state’s structural deficit, but the House and Senate have disagreed on how deeply the income-tax hikes should cut into the middle class.

The Senate has favored hikes on single residents making more than $75,000 and couples making more than $125,000, with the House wanting increases only on those making more than $100,000 and $150,000, respectively.

Republicans argue that any increases will only hurt taxpayers.

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican, said Tuesday he will introduce a bill during the special session that would avoid tax increases by keeping state spending at its current level.

Republicans are outnumbered nearly three-to-one in the Senate and more than two-to-one in the House, so the proposal is unlikely to gain much traction.

However, Mr. Pipkin said he hopes to send a message to residents and lawmakers alike.

“At the very least, my legislation to hold spending to last year’s level will communicate to Marylanders that tax increases to accommodate excessive spending need not be the route the state has to take,” he said.