- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is considering bowing to pressure and calling a special session of the General Assembly to address the state’s budget deficit, and administration officials say nothing is off the table — including legalizing slots or raising taxes.

The possibility of a special session marks a change for the freshman governor, a Democrat who had said he would not consider legalizing slots or raising taxes in his first year in office.

A source with knowledge of discussions between Mr. O’Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said a special session will focus on legalizing slots and is likely to occur in June.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, hinted last week that a special session may be necessary next year to increase taxes and legalize slots. Asked about the possibility of a special session this year, Mr. Miller said yesterday that he expects a request for legislators to reconvene after the close of the current session in April.

“I think it might come from the governor,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller has actively pushed Mr. O’Malley and state lawmakers to address the state’s structural deficit — estimated to be more than $4 billion over four years. Mr. Miller said last week that the Senate may have to cut some of Mr. O’Malley’s top priorities to ease the budget pressures.

A spokesman for Mr. O’Malley said the governor was aware of the “significant structural deficit” that the state faces, but he would not confirm or deny whether the governor is considering calling a special session.

“We’re 45 days into this session; there’s still a lot of work to be done on important issues to move this state forward,” said O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

A source in the governor’s office said that all options for addressing the budget deficit are “on the table.”

Republican leaders in the House said they do not expect the governor to call a special session, and they were skeptical about how effective such a move would be.

“I don’t think the governor’s going to want us back here — back in town — and it’s doubtful that the speaker and the president of the Senate will come to any agreement,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, a Southern Maryland Republican. “So it’s not likely.”

But Senate Republicans said they think a special session will be the vehicle Democrats use to raise taxes and close the budget deficit.

“It very well may be because that’s the venue that they choose to do it,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, called special sessions in 2004 to address medical malpractice insurance reform and last year to deal with electrical utility rates.

Before Mr. Ehrlich’s term, the last special session was called in 1992 by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat.

Special sessions are called by the governor and can last up to 30 days.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said the legislature would clearly reconvene if Mr. O’Malley made the request, but he did not think it was a necessary option.

“With 45 to 47 days left to go, I don’t think you’re talking about a special session, unless you’re going to adjourn sine die in March,” Mr. Busch said.

Sine die is a Latin term referring to the last day of the General Assembly’s 90-day session. It is scheduled for April 9 this year.

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