- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — State senators are preparing to work through the weekend to avoid an extension of the General Assembly session, which is scheduled to adjourn Monday.

The Democrat-controlled House and Senate have yet to reach an agreement on the state’s $25.6 billion budget, and are deadlocked on legislation that would legalize slot machines, cut the property tax and fund stem-cell research.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, this week told lawmakers to prepare to work through the weekend to end the session by midnight Monday.

“We have this one looming issue: stem cell,” Mr. Miller said.

“Right now, there are not enough votes to cut off debate,” said the Senate president, who has stalled consideration of the stem-cell bill. “And I don’t think there will be enough votes to cut off debate.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch has not asked delegates to prepare to work through the weekend, noting that his chamber does not employ the filibuster.

“I don’t think the House will be in on Sunday,” said Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat.

House and Senate budget negotiators had just begun to reconvene yesterday. House leaders earlier this week halted talks over a proposed property-tax cut.

Sen. Ulysses Currie said he expected the first of three budget proposals to be completed by last night and the other offers to be completed by tomorrow.

“We will meet Friday and probably come in and do some work on Saturday as well,” said Mr. Currie, Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

However, a property-tax cut sought by House leaders, which caused the budget impasse, is “still an issue,” he said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman H. Conway, Wicomico County Democrat, could not be reached to comment but has called the tax cut a “major item.”

The House has insisted on a property-tax cut of 4.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. The Senate has rejected the tax cut, saying it would be irresponsible to reduce taxes with budget deficits looming for the state.

A similar stalemate has stalled slots legislation. The House has insisted on authorizing 9,500 machines in four jurisdictions; the Senate has approved 15,500 machines in seven locations.

Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris yesterday said the budget may include the Senate slots plan and the House property-tax cut.

“What may be negotiated is, if we get slots in the [budget] — some limited slots — we could fund the property-tax reduction and then everyone will be happy,” said Mr. Harris, Baltimore County Republican.

Mr. Currie, however, said including slots is not on the table. “There has been no consideration of that on the Senate side,” he said.

Mr. Busch, a longtime slots opponent, was more blunt about a deal on legalizing slot machines. “It won’t happen,” he said.

According to the state’s Department of Legislative Services, the last extended legislative session occurred in 1992 — a four-day extension that was followed by a special session.

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