- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — The General Assembly likely will return May 14 for a two- or three-day special session on a revenue package including income-tax increases and a shift of state-paid teacher-pension costs onto counties, state officials said Wednesday.

Democratic leaders say the extra revenues are needed to bolster the state’s $35.4 billion spending plan and undo more than $500 million in cuts that went into effect when last-minute bickering caused the assembly to adjourn April 9 without passing two key revenue bills.

The House and Senate still have slightly differing proposals to raise taxes, but leaders said they are making progress and hope to have an agreement before the session begins.

“We’re still working on that,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said. “It’s not a question of myself and [House Speaker Michael E. Busch]; it’s a question of the House conferees and the Senate conferees sitting down and working over the details.”

The state has not formally set a date for the special session, but Mr. Miller said it will start May 14 and representatives for Gov. Martin O’Malley said that will probably be the date.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, met Wednesday morning with Senate Democrats to address the special session, during which the chamber’s budget negotiators are expected to push for broader income tax hikes than those favored by the House.

The House has sought to raise taxes only on single residents making $100,000 or more and couples making $150,000 or more, while the Senate has pushed to set the thresholds at $75,000 and $125,000.

The issue has been the most significant disagreement between the two chambers.

Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said he plans to meet in coming days with House Democrats to discuss their approach.

The Senate president, House speaker and Mr. O’Malley all attended a bill-signing ceremony Wednesday and were noticeably more upbeat and optimistic about the state’s budget situation than they have been in recent weeks.

Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller said before the ceremony that the special session will focus mainly on a revenue package and will not include any discussion of a proposal to expand gambling by legalizing table games and adding the state’s sixth casino in Prince George’s County.

Mr. Miller is pushing the proposal despite serious objections in the House and by Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, who said last week that the issue could be decided in a potential second special session in August.

Mr. Miller said he is willing to delay the gambling debate, but he thinks the state will lose out if the issue isn’t decided in time to get it on November’s ballot as a referendum.

“It needs to happen,” he said. “If you want to deal with the deficit, if you want to raise money without taxation … you need a sixth site and you need table games.”

Republicans criticized Democrats Wednesday for considering any special session, blasting them for wanting to raise taxes at a time when many residents are struggling to find work and pay their bills.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican, said residents are growing more frustrated and that Democrats are putting their political hopes in danger by continually raising taxes.

“If these folks continue to proceed, we’re going to expose them politically in the public discourse,” he said. “And they will pay a price for these shenanigans in 2014.”

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