- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — The General Assembly adjourned Monday night after a chaotic closing session in which members failed to pass a set of proposed tax increases or a bill to expand gambling in the state.

Lawmakers passed a balanced budget and hoped to pass accompanying bills raising income taxes and shifting teacher-pension costs onto counties, but they ran out of time before the assembly’s required midnight adjournment.

The House attempted to extend the session by passing a resolution shortly before midnight, but the Senate did not address the measure in time.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he was content to adjourn and said the governor should call a special session in the near future during which lawmakers could consider and potentially pass much of the pending legislation.

“The public expects us to get our work done in 90 days and we did the best we could,” said Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat.

Failure of the tax and pension bills triggers $512 million in automatic budget cuts, which include cuts to education and local aid. Many of the cuts could be replaced with revenues if Gov. Martin O’Malley calls a special session.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, addressed reporters during an appearance after midnight and declined to say whether he will call a special session. He was harshly critical of lawmakers for allowing the cuts to take effect.

“We failed to protect the priorities that allow our state to move forward,” he said. “That is not in keeping with what the people of our state expect from our legislature.”

Proceedings on Monday were defined by a daylong standoff between House and Senate leaders over a budget package that was slated to raise income-tax rates and lower the value of personal exemptions for single residents making more than $100,000 a year and couples making more than $150,000.

The sides agreed to the rate hikes but rejected a Senate proposal to also decrease the value of exemptions for taxpayers below those thresholds.

The agreement appeared to offer hope but did not pass either chamber.

The day ended with both chambers blaming one another, as Senate members accused the House of being inflexible throughout budget discussions. The House in turn accused Senate negotiators of holding the budget hostage to coerce House passage of a bill to could bring table games to the state and a casino to Prince George’s County.

“It’s pretty evident that our counterparts in the Senate slow-played all the budgetary bills,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat. “They got exactly what they wanted in the end.”

Lawmakers began making progress early Monday night, when the House Ways and Means Committee passed a heavily amended version of the Senate-backed gambling bill, sending it to the House floor.

The bill, which would go to referendum if passed, was never debated on the House floor. It would have needed a three-fifths majority in the House and successful negotiation of any changes between the two chambers.

The legislation would have allowed table games and 3,000 slot machines in Prince George’s County and allowed no more than 40 percent of statewide slots revenues to go to casino operators.

Operators currently receive 33 percent of revenues and have worried that an extra site will cut into their profits.

The bill would have left revenue distribution for table games to be decided next year.

Other key bills on Monday’s agenda included Mr. O’Malley’s offshore-wind energy bill, which died without support from the Senate Finance Committee.

The assembly also approved bills that would tighten restrictions on residential septic tanks and double the state’s so-called “flush tax” from $30 to $60 annually for most residents.

Mr. O’Malley, Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch are scheduled to meet 10:30 a.m. Tuesday for a bill signing.

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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