- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES OCEAN CITY — House Speaker Michael E. Busch yesterday warned local officials from across Maryland to prepare for less financial support and not to criticize state lawmakers as they struggle with a $1.5 billion budget deficit.

“If we’re [in Annapolis] making tough decisions, we don’t need people throwing popcorn in the ring,” Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said at the annual Maryland Municipal League conference. “I’m always amazed at the people who sit in the first row of the boxing match and say ‘Mike Tyson never hits that hard.’ … We can always give you the opportunity to see if you can do a better job raising revenue at the local level.”

Mr. Busch’s statements appeared to contrast those by Gov. Martin O'Malley, who said earlier this week he would not cut local aid to balance the state budget.

This is not the first time Mr. Busch and Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, have taken different approaches to state finances during the governor’s first term.

Mr. O'Malley said near the close of this year’s General Assembly that Mr. Busch and other state lawmakers were largely responsible for the budget shortfall because they were unwilling to make hard decisions.

The comment was also the first sign of a private but strained relationship between Mr. O'Malley and Mr. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat.

Mr. Busch responded by saying: “The idea that somehow even under the [direst] of circumstances that the Maryland House of Delegates did not have the political will to resolve the problem, as far as I’m concerned, is inaccurate.”

Terence O. Hanley, the chairman of Bel Air’s board of town commissioners and among the hundreds of local leaders attending the conference this week at the resort’s Roland E. Powell Convention Center, said yesterday not every Maryland locality is ready to support a tax increase just because state leaders say they should.

“I’m telling my residents to buckle up for a bumpy ride because your taxes are going up.” Mr. Hanley said.

Mr. Busch also said the state has been generous with local school aid — including the $1.3 billion increase in public education funding for which local leaders like to take a lot of the credit.

Officials for the Maryland Municipal League, which like other lobby firms work the halls of Annapolis to oppose cuts to local aid, said they support Mr. Busch’s proposal.

“I think what he’s trying to say is: ‘We’re going to try and protect you, we’re going to try and protect the local budgets and not balance the budgets on your back, but if you’re going to come out and criticize the other things we’re going to do, that’s not going to help,’ ” said David E. Carey, the group’s president.

Budget analysts are scheduled today to give updates to House and Senate committees on the state’s fiscal picture.

Mr. Busch also cast doubt on the possibility of calling a special General Assembly session to fix the budget deficit.

He said he would support only a session long enough to fully debate key issues, particularly legalizing slot machines in Maryland.

He opposes slots as a way to generate state revenue while Mr. O'Malley and Mr. Miller are in favor of such a plan.



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