- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley emerged Tuesday from a much-anticipated meeting with the state’s two leading lawmakers and revealed that he is not only leaning toward calling a special session, but he might even call two of them.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said he hopes to bring the General Assembly back into session by mid-May so legislators can pass a set of tax and revenue increases to erase $512 million in cuts that were put into place when the assembly adjourned April 9.

The governor said he wants to focus strictly on finances and hold off on debating a gambling bill pushed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., but he might order a second special session to take it up this summer.

Mr. O’Malley told reporters that he hopes to settle gambling and the budget this year while avoiding the bickering that marred the end of the regular session, when lawmakers adjourned without agreement on either issue.

“I think that both issues deserve a hearing and some resolution,” the governor said. “And I think, though, that what made this session very disappointing and frustrating by the end was that we were considering both those issues at the same time.”

The governor had breakfast Tuesday with Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch in the first discussion among the three since the regular session’s end. The adjournment left the governor and speaker accusing Mr. Miller of intentionally stalling budget talks to pressure the House into passing a bill that would have let voters decide whether to legalize table games and approve a new casino in Prince George’s County.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, is anxious to get a gambling bill passed in time for a referendum this November. Failure to do so would push a vote on the issues to 2014 at the earliest.

But the governor, Mr. Busch and many House members have expressed concerns that table games or an extra casino could take business from the state’s existing and planned slots operations.

Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said the more important issue right now is to settle the budget. He expects to meet soon with other House leaders to discuss ideas on potential revenue increases.

House and Senate negotiators agreed to a set of income tax and revenue hikes on the regular session’s final day, but ran out of time to pass them.

Officials say the agreement is just a starting point for future negotiations, and Mr. Miller has already proposed tweaking the deal by extending tax increases to single residents making more than $75,000 and couples making more than $125,000 in taxable income — a departure from the previous House-proposed plan to start increases at $100,000 and $150,000 respectively.

Mr. Busch said Mr. Miller’s proposal was not discussed during Tuesday’s meeting.

“Both of us have numerous members that we have to bring back and have a discussion,” he said.

Despite its $512 million in cuts, state budget analysts said last week the default budget is actually not balanced and that $70 million in new reductions are needed to bring spending in line with revenues.

Mr. O’Malley said he must propose the cuts to the Board of Public Works by May 23 if he wants them included in the budget, which is scheduled to go into effect July 1.

Mr. O’Malley said he hopes to avoid the reductions by passing a new revenue package before the deadline.

Representatives for the governor said he has had no discussion of using either potential special session for other issues he supported during the regular session such as offshore-wind energy or a gas-tax increase.

Republicans contend that a special session is unnecessary and that tax hikes will only hurt residents already struggling in difficult economic times.

They have also raised questions about the cost of a special session, which state analysts say could be more than $20,000 a day.

GOP lawmakers have long called for the state to cut its spending rather than raise revenues and were harshly critical Tuesday of the governor’s proposal.

“They’re going to raise every tax they can get us to raise,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican. “Then to have a second session linger on for gambling? I think people are going to go nuts.”

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