Md. lawmakers to tackle budget deficit in special session

October 27, 2007|By ANDREW SHOTZ


Call it deficit-busting stew.

Starting Monday, Maryland lawmakers will convene in Annapolis for a special session that includes ample doses of taxes.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's $2 billion recipe includes a higher sales tax, a lower property tax rate, an increased vehicle titling tax, a higher tobacco tax and a greater income tax for the wealthy, among many other changes.

O'Malley, a Democrat, also wants to cut $280 million in spending and 147 jobs.

Sprinkle with slot machines and a new health-care plan and bake for, oh, maybe two or three weeks.

Many Republicans, including some representing Washington County, say O'Malley's appetite for more taxes and higher spending is too great and have suggested a leaner diet.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he doesn't like the reversal of process that's driving the special session ? revenue measures first, with a budget to follow. Usually, the budget proposal comes first.


"It really bothers me," McKee said.

"Without a budget, you don't know how much money you'll need," said Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington.

But Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said O'Malley is confronting the state's $1.7 billion structural deficit "head on."

"When all is said and done, we'll have a responsible package," Donoghue said.

Last week, O'Malley released a plan showing the alternative to his revenue package ? deep cuts in a variety of areas, including public and higher education, Medicaid, Program Open Space and retirement funds.

It supposedly would mean a direct loss of about $19 million in expected revenue for Washington County, and the merging of Hagerstown's Potomac Center for people with mental disabilities with another facility near Cumberland, Md.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, has called the alternative proposal "political theater" meant to scare the public.

He said Republicans would rather have state spending increase at a lower rate than O'Malley has proposed.

Donoghue, the only Democrat among Washington County's eight-member delegation, defended the choices O'Malley has presented as legitimate.

Denying the severity of the possible cuts, Donoghue said, is "intellectual dishonesty."

The opposing parties could wrangle for up to 30 days, the authorized maximum length of the special session.

But, as Donoghue pointed out, Democrats, with large majorities in both chambers, are expected to control the outcomes. Even Republicans suspect the votes have been lined up for much of what O'Malley wants.

In the weeks leading up to the special session, the wild-card issue has been legalizing slots, which O'Malley's Republican predecessor, Robert Ehrlich, failed to accomplish in each of his four years in office.

On Friday, O'Malley's administration filed a bill proposing a referendum on slots. State voters would decide in November 2008.

A separate bill authorizes up to 15,000 slot machines ? more than O'Malley previously has suggested ? at five locations. The only Western Maryland location would be Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort in Allegany County.

Some Washington County representatives will be directly involved in the shape of the special session through their committees.

McKee's Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which includes Edwards and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, will consider slots legislation

The Ways & Means and Budget and Taxation committees will meet jointly with the House Appropriations Committee on other bills.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, is on the Appropriations Committee.

Donoghue and Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, are on the House Health and Government Operations Committee, which will review O'Malley's plan to extend medical coverage to more than 100,000 uninsured Marylanders.

The session will begin Monday night, when O'Malley is expected to address the House and Senate.

Committee meetings are scheduled for Tuesday through Saturday.

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