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Special session predictions differ

April 20, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Washington County's state lawmakers are divided over whether the General Assembly will have a special session this year to work on a budget deficit.

All agreed, though, that the deficit, estimated to be $1.5 billion, will dominate discussions either in January, when the legislature is scheduled to meet next, or sooner.

Gov. Martin O'Malley used nearly $1 billion from the state's rainy-day fund for this year's budget, leaving the minimum level.

Republicans proposed cutting spending increases, but Democrats, who control both houses, said the cuts were drastic and defeated the GOP plans.

"The odds are high" that there will be a special session, said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany.

Myers predicted that Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., the Senate president, will group slots, "Green Fund" new-construction fees to help the Chesapeake Bay and other taxes in one package.

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Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said the package likely will have a sales-tax expansion, slots at four horse tracks and one other site, and a higher gas tax.

"I don't think O'Malley is going to want to tie up any time" during the 2008 regular session, which runs from January to April, Weldon said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, agreed that slots will be part of a special session, along with taxes and other "revenue enhancers."

Miller, D-Calvert/Prince George's, has said the Senate chamber will be remodeled this year. If that happens in the summer, as expected, September is the likely time for a special session, Munson said.

Others disagreed.

"I think, at this point, there is no discussion about a special session" on the deficit, said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

He and Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said a few legislative committees will work on budget plans before next year's session.

"The money committees will be quite active this summer," said McKee, who serves on one - Ways and Means.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said there's no point in a fall session, shortly before the regular session. He called it "posturing" to say there's a deficit crisis, calling the real problem "fiscally liberal people."

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said it won't be clear if a special session is needed until the fall state revenue estimates.

Unless Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, agree on core issues, such as slots, there will be no special session, McKee said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, called the relationship between Miller and Busch "dysfunctional."

Shank made no prediction about a special session, but said he opposes them.

"They tend to be very backroom-oriented," he said.

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