Conference committee meets Saturday to seal deal

The Maryland General Assembly is taking its budget deliberations down to the wire as it moves toward the end of its 90-day session Monday night.

The conference committees seeking to resolve differences between the Senate and House on the four bills in the state's budget package did not meet Friday despite early expectations they would. But a conference on the most critical bill, the one that would raise income taxes enough to blance the budget without spending cuts the majority Democrats find unpalatable, will meet at 8:30 a.m. If that committee reaches a deal, the panels negotiating the budget bill  and a companion measure are expected to quickly follow suit.

Leading lawmakers said progress has been made behind the scenes and that negotiators should be able to wrap up a deal Saturday -- giving the legislative staff Sunday to prepare a conference committee report for distribution on the floor of each chamber Monday.

The process is in some ways an intricate legislative ritual. The final steps of the dance must be performed in public, but key legislators say the choreography has already been decided. There were already some signs Friday that the legislative logjam caused by the delayed budget deal was beginning to ease. A Senate committee approave a bill raising the so-called "flush tax" to fund sewer sytem upgrades -- a measure Senate President Thomas V, Mike Miller had said would have to get in line behind the budget.

Passing the budget is the only legislative task lawmakers have to get done each year under Maryland's Constitution. If the budget does not pass by Monday night, the legislature would be forced into a special session. But lawmakers seemed confident Friday that a deal will be finalized and that they can go home after the Assembly adjourns "sine die."




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