- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Tuesday that the chamber will look to make broader budget cuts than those proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and might even consider a “doomsday” budget that would include $500 million in reductions with essentially no revenue increases.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, said the Senate likely will begin the budget debate this month and will consider several alternate proposals to the Democratic governor’s plan, which includes modest cuts and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax and revenue increases. Mr. O’Malley’s plan also includes an income-tax hike on the top 20 percent of earners.

Mr. Miller said the O’Malley plan is too light on cuts and too heavy on spending and that the General Assembly will have to make some tough decisions.

“This is [an assembly] session that’s going to be ‘profiles in courage’ or ‘profiles in hell,’ ” he said. “Democracy has sort of come to the state of Maryland. It’s not one person saying what’s going to happen and that’s what happens.”

The Democrat-controlled assembly hopes to pass a budget this year that cuts at least half of the state’s $1.1 billion structural deficit, which estimates projected budget shortfalls in future years.

The Senate must pass its own version of the budget before sending it to the House. State guidelines ask that both chambers pass their plans by April 2.

Mr. O’Malley’s $35.8 billion plan would trim more than $650 million from the deficit, but opponents argue that it relies too heavily on increasing revenue to meet spending and passes $239 million in expenses on to counties by shifting teacher-pension costs.

Democrats and Republicans also have been up in arms about the governor’s planned income-tax increases, which would generate an extra $182 million for the state by reducing personal exemptions and capping itemized tax deductions for Marylanders who make as little as $100,000 a year.

Opponents argue that the proposal — which would cap deductions at 90 percent of income for people making $100,000 and 80 percent for those making $200,000 — would most adversely affect mortgage-interest deductions, which make up about half of deductions in the state.

“The governor tends to throw everything on the wall to see what will stick,” said Sen. David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican. “I’m glad to hear that [legislators] want to be more aggressive on the reduction side. But I still feel that Maryland taxpayers are paying too much.”

Mr. Miller, who has supported raising the state’s gas tax to generate transportation revenue, said he hopes to see the Senate roll back the tax hikes and adopt a more balanced approach with cuts and revenue increases.

He said lawmakers will look at several budget proposals, including the governor’s; others with alternate cuts and revenue measures; and the doomsday budget that would balance the state’s spending entirely with cuts that he said could include layoffs and reductions in local aid.

“That doomsday budget may be a real possibility,” said Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Vice Chairman Nathaniel J. McFadden, Baltimore Democrat. “It will shock this state. Unless we get the 24 votes [for another proposal], then we’re in for a tremendous awakening.”

Mr. Miller said that if senators cannot reach an agreement in the 47-member chamber, they might be forced to pass the all-cuts proposal to the House.

He acknowledged that with counties already complaining about required education spending and more pension costs, no proposal will be fully accepted by all sides.

“We hope to find 24 [senators] of good will and courage to move forward, because there’s going to be something that everybody doesn’t like,” he said.

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