- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is pushing for broader income-tax increases and a last-ditch attempt at expanding gambling as lawmakers look toward a possible special session, but the House appears reluctant to embrace either proposal.

Mr. Miller will meet Tuesday with Gov. Martin O’Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch to discuss the scope of a potential special session, during which the General Assembly likely would pass several tax and revenue increases to cancel out $512 million in cuts resulting from their failure to pass the increases at the regular session’s close.

Mr. Miller is waging an uphill battle to bring back a failed gambling bill during the special session. He upped the ante Friday by asking that the House back off its stance on income-tax increases and accept a set of Senate-proposed hikes that would dig deeper into the state’s middle class.

During the regular session, the Senate proposed income-tax increases on virtually all taxpayers. But the House insisted that any hikes affect the state’s wealthier class — only single residents with taxable income greater than $100,000 and couples with taxable income greater than $150,000.

The House won the battle as representatives from both chambers agreed to honor its income thresholds. But legislation putting the tax increase in place did not pass before the assembly’s April 9 adjournment.

The new proposal from Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, would modify the agreement by raising taxes on singles making more than $75,000 in taxable income and couples making more than $125,000.

His offer surprised some House members who said they expected both chambers to honor the agreement that was struck during the regular session.

“The burden of proof is on the Senate to demonstrate why what we agreed to — in full conference under normal procedures — should be reversed,” said Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrat. “I’m sure the speaker of the House is open to a discussion, but he’s not going to compromise for compromise’s sake [and only would] if it’s a good policy decision.”

Mr. Rosenberg, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and was one of the chief negotiators on the tax deal, said House members have tried to toe the balance of raising needed revenues for the state while not overburdening lower- and middle-class taxpayers.

Senators have accused the House of taking an inflexible, short-sighted approach, arguing that relatively modest increases will only help for the next year or two, and other tax increases could follow shortly.

Senate members say broader increases are needed to trim and eventually eliminate the state’s $1.1 billion structural deficit, which measures anticipated revenue shortfalls in future years.

“We need a fair and balanced approach that says everyone benefits, everyone has a stake and everyone should share in the responsibility,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Montgomery Democrat, earlier this month.

Mr. Miller did not return messages Monday seeking a comment but said in a letter last week to Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Busch that his proposal still honors the House’s wish to avoid tax increases on residents making less than $100,000.

He argued that residents with as little as $75,000 in taxable income can withstand a tax increase because many of them actually earn six figures before deductions and exemptions are subtracted to calculate taxable income.

Mr. Miller says expanded gambling would be another useful tool in trimming the structural deficit, and he still appears hopeful that the assembly could pass a bill during a special session that would let voters decide whether to legalize table games and a new casino in Prince George’s County.

The proposal passed the Senate during the regular session but died without a vote in the House, where Mr. Rosenberg said support was “not even close to a majority.”

The governor, a Democrat, and Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, both appear strongly opposed to revisiting the issue and have expressed concerns about oversaturating the state’s gambling market.

Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for Mr. Busch, declined to elaborate Monday on the speaker’s stance on either of Mr. Miller’s proposals but said he hopes to work out some sort of agreement in the near future.

“We’ll just meet [Tuesday] and we’ll see how things go from there,” she said.

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