- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

ANNAPOLISGov. Martin O’Malley says he has enough votes in the special General Assembly session to pass wide-ranging tax increases and get his proposal for slot-machine gambling on the November 2008 ballot, despite lawmakers saying they have yet to reach a consensus.

“I think the legislators are very uncomfortable about being told they need to vote for these massive tax increases,” Senate Minority Whip Allan H. Kittleman, Howard Republican, said yesterday “The only consensus in Annapolis right now is that we shouldn’t be here.”

Republicans pulled their support for tax increases before the special session started Monday, forcing Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, to look for help among House and Senate Democrats.

Although Democrats control both chambers, party leaders say it is too early to tell whether Mr. O’Malley will succeed with his plan to hold the session to pass the tax increases and the slots initiative to cut Maryland’s $1.5 billion shortfall and increase state spending on transportation, health care and higher education.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said he is still trying to find support from Democrats representing conservative districts.

“I’m concerned with building a coalition” to support tax increases, he said Tuesday. “I don’t know where all the votes are going to come from.”

Mr. O’Malley ordered lawmakers back to Annapolis for the session on Oct. 15.

He has submitted six bill that would increase the Maryland sales tax, corporate taxes and taxes on gasoline, tobacco and personal income. The governor also wants to put as many as 15,000 slot machines in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore, Cecil County, Western Maryland and Worcester County.

He also submitted plans to freeze college tuition, expand health care coverage, spend hundreds of millions for school construction and cut the state property tax, all if voters approve his slots plan next year.

Mr. O’Malley has tasked Joe Bryce with selling his plan to the state’s 188 lawmakers. Mr. Bryce is the former chief of staff for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, and was a lobbyist for former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a fellow Democrat.

Mr. O’Malley’s staffers presented the governor’s plan to increase the gas tax, car-titling fee and corporate-income tax yesterday, but many officials were still critical of their tack used Monday in presenting the “doomsday budget” scenario.

In addition, Comptroller Peter Franchot criticized Mr. O’Malley’s proposal to tie slots to the increased spending and tax cuts.

“The solution is completely lacking in consensus or basic information,” he said.

One of Mr. Bryce’s deputies told lawmakers yesterday that the governor’s plan would increase the gas tax by a half-cent in January, contradicting statements that Mr. O’Malley and his press secretary made last week that the increase would not start until 2009.

“I’m not even sure there’s a consensus on what the problem is,” Mr. Franchot said, referring to a split between the General Assembly’s budget analysts who say the state has a $1.5 billion shortfall and the governor’s analysts who say the number is $1.7 billion.

Critics say the massive amount of information being presented during the session is an attempt to wear down lawmakers and force through legislation before the lawmakers have time to thoroughly review it.

“To me, it’s a shotgun” approach, said Delegate Luiz Simmons, Montgomery Democrat.

The special session could last up to 30 days, compared with the general sessions that last 90 days.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, said budget leaders blocked him yesterday from asking questions at a hearing on the corporate-tax increase.

Mr. O’Donnell said many people have been left out of “One Maryland” — a phrase Mr. O’Malley used during the campaign to push for unity.

“I’m getting the impression that ‘One Maryland’ means one man’s political future,” he said, referring to Mr. O’Malley’s national political ambitions.

Mr. O’Donnell also said many Democrats have confided in him that they don’t want to be in Annapolis for the session.

Lawmakers have been inundated with phone calls and e-mails since the beginning of the session.

Delegate Ronald A. George, Anne Arundel Republican, said he doesn’t have time to finish reading all of the e-mails that he has received during the week.

He said that the majority of them are against legalizing slot machines and that he will continue to oppose tax increases and slots.

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