- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — House Republicans on Tuesday threw their support behind the state’s approved $35.4 billion budget, urging Democratic leaders not to call a widely expected special session during which they could add hundreds of millions in new taxes and spending.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is still considering whether to order lawmakers to return to work. The General Assembly adjourned last week without passing a set of tax increases and revenue enhancements.

Democratic leaders have characterized the current blueprint as a “doomsday budget,” ushering in $512 million in automatic spending cuts. They say they desperately need to come back and pass the failed revenue bills.

GOP lawmakers say a half-billion dollars in reductions is just fine and that added tax hikes would mean a true doomsday for residents.

“We are looking for a new day in Maryland,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican. “We don’t need to go to the tax well and kick people while they are down as a first course of action every time there’s a little glitch in the road.”

At a news conference Tuesday, House Republicans said the default budget - which would take effect July 1 - is a good start in limiting state spending, and not the doomsday scenario that Democrats have described.

Despite its $512 million in cuts to education, local police aid and other areas, the plan would still increase overall spending by about $700 million over the current fiscal year’s $34.7 billion budget.

The budget would also decrease per-pupil education funding by about $111, but Republicans pointed out it will still raise overall public education spending by about $2 million next year.

State Republicans - who make up less than one-third of the House and about one-fourth of the Senate - have often criticized Democrats for describing such reductions as cuts when they only reduce projected spending hikes rather than cutting actual year-to-year spending.

House Republicans, who pushed unsuccessfully for a flat budget during the regular session, said the default plan is not perfect but far better than what Democrats want.

“This is a contrived crisis that would give [Democrats] a second bite at the tax apple,” said Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, Talbot Republican. “And, frankly, Marylanders deserve better.”

Democrats have defended their desire to raise revenues, arguing it will more aggressively attack the state’s $1.1 billion structural deficit than any plan without tax increases.

They also say it is irresponsible to make deep cuts or lower year-to-year spending amid rising needs for education, health care and infrastructure.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Tuesday that the “doomsday” cuts could deprive residents of many services and reduce the quality of public education while raising college tuition and medical costs.

“It’s pretty simple: You either vote for the services or you vote for the cuts,” said Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat. “And to provide the services, you have to have a revenue behind them.”

Democratic leaders are clearly unhappy with the cuts, but Mr. Busch said Tuesday no firm plans had been made to call a special session.

A special session can be ordered by Mr. O’Malley or by the General Assembly itself with majority approval from both chambers.

Mr. Busch said he had breakfast with the governor over the weekend but has yet to talk with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, since last week’s adjournment.

The speaker said he would expect all three to get together before a special session is called, but no such meeting has been scheduled.

House and Senate lawmakers appear on the same track with regard to passing the failed revenue bills during a special session but are far from a consensus on whether to address other issues, such as additional revenue bills and expanding gambling.

“If you’re going to have a special session, it’s got to be planned out,” Mr. Busch said. “You have to know what you’re trying to accomplish and you have to have the votes to do it.”

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