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Legislative measures trapped by stalemate

April 07, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Legislative leaders and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich continued talks on taxes and slots Tuesday as their stalemate threatened to entangle nearly every major initiative of the 2004 legislative session.

"I don't see a whole lot of agreement at this point. In fact, things seem to have gotten more confused," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

A proposed vehicle registration fee increase became the latest initiative to get caught in the web Tuesday when the Senate delayed action on it until at least Thursday.

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Although the 90-day legislative session is scheduled to end at midnight Monday, it will run longer if the General Assembly fails to pass a budget for fiscal 2005. The House and Senate have unanimously passed budgets, but differences between the two need to be ironed out in a conference committee.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, is refusing to negotiate on the budget until the House moves forward with the Senate's bill to legalize slot machines to raise revenue.

Miller said Tuesday he's continuing to try to broker a deal to fill a projected $800 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2006. Ehrlich wants slots approved to help make up the shortfall, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, advocates higher sales taxes and income taxes.

Legislative leaders on Tuesday continued a series of closed-door meetings to try to work out a compromise.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, said he will try to block Little Orleans from getting slots. The Senate proposal calls for slots at up to three racetracks in the state, including one to be built west of the Washington County line in Little Orleans.

A number of legislative initiatives are caught up in the stalemate over taxes and slots.

The Senate has yet to pass any Washington County bills this session.

Also, a vehicle registration fee proposal that appeared to be headed for quick passage in the Senate to raise as much as $220 million for transportation projects was suddenly delayed Tuesday.

Another initiative hanging in limbo Tuesday was a $30-a-year sewer surcharge to pay for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

Munson and other Senate Republicans derailed an apparent compromise on the bill between Ehrlich and the Senate Education Health and Economic Affairs Committee when they demanded septic tank owners be exempt from the fee.

Munson said he will oppose the fee whether septics are included or not.

"My constituents have made it very clear to me they don't support that. I've come here to represent them. It's as simple as that," he said.

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