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Miller wants to reopen tax negotiations

Senate president continues to deny link between gambling and budget deal

By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun

7:58 PM EDT, April 20, 2012

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Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller says he wants a "modification" to a budget deal that General Assembly conferees signed hours before the legislative session ended in confusion last week.

In a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Miller says he believes the General Assembly should increase income taxes on people with adjusted gross incomes of more than $75,000. House and Senate budget conferees had agreed to a plan to raise taxes on individuals with incomes of more than $100,000.

The letter represents a specific proposal to craft a solution to the budget mess in Annapolis, which leading Democrats have blamed Miller for creating. The 90-day General Assembly session ended at midnight April 9 without approval of revenue measures, including an income tax bill, that were designed to avoid major budget cuts.

O'Malley and Busch have suggested that Miller delayed action on the revenue bills because he was waiting for the House to approve legislation he favors to allow a sixth casino in Maryland. In the letter, Miller denies ever linking the two issues.

"I do not see this as a time for panicking or finger-pointing," Miller wrote in his letter to O'Malley and Busch. "Rather, we must turn our focus from engaging in blame games to the work ahead."

All three men are Democrats.

It's the second letter that Miller has written this week on the budget meltdown. On Monday, he wrote to senators, telling them he had been the target of "false allegations" and complaining that the House engaged in "press stunts" on the final day of the session.

The state budget set to take effect July 1 would cut about $500 million from Democratic priorities, including education. O'Malley, Busch and Miller have all said they want to pass a plan to avoid those cuts during a special session, but for much of the week there was little sign of movement in the stalemate.

In Friday's letter, Miller struck a new tone, matter-of-factly laying out a framework for approaching the special session. The Senate would agree to a House plan to shift some state pension costs to the counties more slowly than had been envisioned. But Miller also wants to revise the income tax plan.

O'Malley responded swiftly with his own letter Friday, saying he plans to meet with both men Tuesday. "Concluding the budget would certainly be a positive step forward," O'Malley wrote.

Busch's chief of staff, Kristen Jones, said Friday that the letter would be "the focus of conversations" among the three top Democrats next week.

O'Malley and Busch have both said that Miller linked the budget measures to the passage of legislation that would add table games at the state's casinos and allow a new one to be built in Prince George's County, which he represents. After the session ended, Miller complained that he had had a "deal" with the speaker that included voting on a gambling plan.

The governor continued to push that interpretation Friday. At a breakfast to get to know national reporters, O'Malley explained the Annapolis budget impasse by saying a "silly bomb of gambling" went off in Annapolis on the last day of the session, causing the current budget impasse.

"When you throw the silly bomb of gambling in among the Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly, everyone starts acting silly," O'Malley said. "The final moments, as we all expected the budget to be resolved, instead they deadlocked."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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