- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — State senators yesterday offered hot and cold responses to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s criticism of lawmakers’ unwillingness to address a looming budget deficit.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. was cool to the Democratic governor’s stance that lawmakers could have done more to deal with the budget during this legislative session, which ends Monday.

“He’s right in the sense that we could’ve made cuts and we should’ve made cuts,” the Prince George’s County Democrat said. “[The governor] also wanted $400 million for school construction; he also wanted us to hold Program Open Space harmless; he also wanted no tuition increases for college education, so we worked with him as best we could this year.”

Mr. O’Malley’s criticism drew heated comments from Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley.

“I think it’s a slap in the face to legislators who are defending his inaction,” said Mr. Brinkley, Frederick County Republican. “They’ve been doing that all along, being critical in private but muzzling themselves in public as to [Mr. O’Malley’s] laissez-faire attitude.”

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Mr. O’Malley said he did not address an imminent $1.5 billion budget shortfall during this session because lawmakers don’t want to make the hard decisions necessary to deal with it.

“How do I say this in a diplomatic way?” Mr. O’Malley told The Times. “There’s not the will in this body, either in the Senate or the House, to do the tough things that we need to do. The majority of both bodies want to give this administration a chance to reduce the magnitude of the mountain ahead of us before they have to cast tough votes.”

His comments yesterday generated much debate around the State House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2-to-1 margins in the Senate and the House of Delegates.

During a committee hearing on the living-wage bill, Senate Republicans cited Mr. O’Malley’s comments during questioning of the governor’s top lobbyist.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell characterized the governor’s criticism as “being thrown under the budgetary bus,” adding that Mr. O’Malley has the authority to extract more from lawmakers on budget matters.

“The state of Maryland has the strongest executive budget process in the nation,” said Mr. O’Donnell, Calvert County Republican.

In an address on the House floor, Mr. O’Donnell said: “I think there’s plenty of blame to go around, Mr. Speaker, for whose fault it is to fix the problems this year in this state — and it’s not necessarily only the legislature’s problem.”

Budget tensions have simmered during this otherwise quiet session, with most lawmakers expecting the fireworks to explode after the session.

Prior to yesterday, Mr. O’Malley had privately talked with Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, only once during this session.

Bringing the “Two Mikes” together will be a tough task, by Mr. O’Malley’s measure.

“It’s going to be very, very hard,” he said.

State leaders held off on passing taxes or legalizing slot machines to close a pending $1.5 billion budget deficit next year at Mr. O’Malley’s request.

Most lawmakers expect package of increased taxes and legalized slot machines to pass after the session ends Monday. They have yet to determine whether that will be during a special session this year or during the 2008 session starting in January.

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