Md. special session lacks GOP appeal

October 15, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS ? To address the state's $1.7 billion budget deficit, Gov. Martin O'Malley on Monday officially called for a special session of the Maryland General Assembly, starting Oct. 29.

O'Malley, a Democrat, has proposed a $2 billion revenue package that includes increasing the sales tax, doubling the cigarette tax, restructuring the income tax, reducing the property tax and legalizing slot machines.

The special session could last as long as 30 days, but local lawmakers noted that anything past three weeks would run into the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Republicans, including those representing Washington County, say tax hikes could be avoided through spending cuts.

They also object to the compressed legislative session, preferring to take up the revenue proposal when the 2008 regular session starts in January.


"This is such a major tax increase that, in my opinion, it needs time to be developed and be debated and be done in a proper fashion," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., the chairman of Washington County's delegation.

O'Malley's executive order for the special session says an earlier start will prevent the deficit from rising an additional $500 million.

"The cost of waiting is too high," O'Malley said in a press release. "It's time to pass a consensus budget plan, solve the problem, and move our State forward."

But Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said a special session is an unnecessarily private way to handle a controversial tax plan that should be discussed during a regularly scheduled 90-day session.

Passing tax increases first lets O'Malley avoid justifying spending increases in a budget, Shank said.

Democrats have large majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Del. John P. Donoghue, the only Democrat among Washington County's eight-member delegation, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

Although tax hikes are controversial, Shank said, legalizing slots might be more elusive.

Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George's, the Senate president, is a booster for slots, while Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, the House speaker, is hesitant.

Shank said this gives Republicans, the majority of whom favor slots, leverage against O'Malley's tax proposals.

"I don't think he'll be able to pass a slots bill without significant Republican support," Shank said.

O'Malley said he's leaning toward a referendum on slots, which, to start, make up a small part of his revenue package, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he'd support a session devoted to cutting spending, but not raising taxes.

"We're overtaxed as it is," he said.

The most "hurtful" increase, he said, would be to the state's 5 percent sales tax, a proposal that has passed the House before, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich, O'Malley's Republican predecessor.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said it's risky for O'Malley to call a special session without clear support for his bills.

He predicted "lots of bickering" for a week-and-a-half, then a few days when "the votes will magically appear."

As a moderate Republican, Weldon said he might support some of O'Malley's plan, but he wasn't given a chance to see specifics.

O'Malley is either "very naïve, or, even worse, just being intentionally ignorant of Republicans," Weldon said.

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