ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — In a strange ending full of finger-pointing over failures, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned Monday at midnight after running out of time and failing to pass a key revenue plan needed to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts.
The odd ending to a chaotic and tense night prompted the presiding officers of the Democrat-controlled Legislature to say they will ask Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to call a special session for more time to work on the revenue package and possibly other measures such as an expansion of gambling.
O’Malley expressed frustration by the outcome of a session that did not conclude with the usual dropping of balloons and confetti at midnight.
“We failed to protect the priorities that allow our state to move forward and be a state with an increasingly higher level of skills in our workforce, a higher level of education for our kids, and that is not in keeping with what the people of our state expect of their Legislature, especially in difficult times,” O’Malley said.
The governor would not say whether he planned to call lawmakers back for a special session.
“I’m going to talk to the speaker and I’m going to talk to the Senate president,” O’Malley said. “There was 90 days to work all of this out.”
Lawmakers were able to pass a budget that balances the state’s books for the next fiscal year as required under law. However, without the revenue package that would have increased taxes on people who make more than $100,000 a year, the budget relies on more than $250 million in cuts that the tax increases would have covered. A budget reconciliation act need to stave off even more cuts also failed. All said, the failure of the revenue package means that about $500 million in cuts were made to balance the books that Democratic lawmakers had planned to avoid.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, said he will be asking O’Malley for a special session to finish the job. Lawmakers could convene in a special session to take up the revenue bill, the gambling measure and other bills this week.
“Hopefully, can get it done in one day, two days — the most — and deal with revenues, gaming and whatever the other issues that were before us that did not get dealt with, and everything will be fine,” Miller said.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, blamed the Senate for foot-dragging after becoming obsessed with passing gambling legislation.
“Look, I think that it’s pretty evident that our counterparts in the Senate slow played all the budgetary bills and the revenue bills … so they would not be available to be voted on at the appropriate time,” Busch said after session ended.
The House of Delegates tried to extend the session with a joint resolution, but it was not taken up by the Senate.
Republicans criticized the effort to try to extend the session. “Here’s why it’s wrong,” Delegate Anthony O’Donnell,
R-Calvert, said. “The citizens of Maryland demand that we come here and pass a budget and get our work done in 90 days. It’s been going on for years and years and years and yet we messed around.”
There were signs of trouble early on Monday. A panel of lawmakers assigned with reconciling differences in the budget
legislation passed by the two chambers struggled to reach an accord. They only managed to do so with less than four hours left in the session.
While budget negotiations created an obvious distraction, the General Assembly worked to pass other measures during the day.
Lawmakers passed a bill to double the state’s “flush tax” on sewer bills from $30 to $60 dollars a year to pay for upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities.
They also gave final passage to a bill that limits where new septic systems can be installed, a priority of O’Malley’s. The
measure creates a four-tiered system that limits where developers can build residential subdivisions that use septic systems rather than public water and sewer services.
A measure to require local governments to set fees to fight stormwater pollution passed in the last hour.
Some high-profile measures backed by O’Malley failed. O’Malley’s offshore wind measure died for the second year in a
row, even after being scaled back significantly from a bill that failed last year. Another bill backed by the administration to help foster public-private partnerships on big projects such as roads and public buildings didn’t make it, either. O’Malley’s plan to phase in a sales tax on gasoline by 6 percent over three years also failed, but it had been considered dead for some time.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)