- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ANNAPOLIS — A meeting to discuss budget-cut proposals will be open to all lawmakers, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Wednesday, after Republicans called the proposed one-party hearing an insincere “sideshow” and turned down an invitation to attend.

Mr. Miller, a Democrat, pledged all recommendations will be considered as the Legislature works on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget proposal to make up for a $2 billion deficit.

“It’s open to everybody so that that meeting should not be held in vain,” Mr. Miller said.

Republicans have complained they are not being included in all substantive budget discussions. Instead, they said, Democratic chairmen of fiscal committees sent a letter inviting only Republicans to a Feb. 23 hearing to make proposals.

Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman, the Senate’s minority leader, sent a letter back turning down the invitation. On Wednesday, Mr. Kittleman said he believed the meeting was “a political move” and insincere.

“We will participate in the normal process, and we will provide amendments, and we will have solutions to the budget situation, but we’re not going to sit there and have a sideshow and have a circus area of doing that,” Mr. Kittleman said.

Maryland’s budget problems have bedeviled the Democratic O’Malley administration since he took office in 2007, and they have worsened during the recession. Republicans have been persistent critics, saying his spending proposals are badly out of line with fiscal realities. In an election year when all Legislative seats are up as well as the governorship, Republicans have been turning up the volume.

Tension was bubbling before the session convened last month. While speaking on a panel with House Speaker Michael Busch, Mr. Kittleman complained about Republicans being shut out of significant discussions.

“They don’t include any Republicans in the fiscal leadership meetings,” Mr. Kittleman said at the time. “Not one. Not one. Why not? If you can defend what you’re doing, you should be able to allow the other side in to work with you.”

Mr. Kittleman’s comment during the Maryland Association of Counties winter conference brought an irritated response from Mr. Busch, who has criticized Republicans for talking about steeper budget cuts without saying where they should be.

“If you want be in the game, and you want to play, and you want to be included, put out those specific cuts,” Mr. Busch said.

During Wednesday’s session, in which only 32 of 47 senators were present as another big snowfall churned, Mr. Miller said the state needs as many recommendations as it can get to save money.

“We have a fiscal crisis just like all other states do, and we need to collect the wisdom of all 47 senators, and anybody who feels that there’s a benefit that’s here in government that does not need to be — that we can do without — we need to hear about it,” Mr. Miller said.

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