The first 45 days of the General Assembly session were dominated by talk of marriage. The theme for the second half is shaping up to be money — and there's not enough of it.
Thursday's Senate vote approving same-sex marriage in Maryland came on the eve of the halfway point of the annual 90-day session. Now legislators are turning their attention to the budget, and how exactly they will close a projected $1 billion deficit.
Howard County Democrat.
Gov.Martin O'Malley said the budget "could well be" more controversial than his bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
One thing is clear: There's little love for the governor's budget plan, which would increase income taxes paid by anyone making more than $100,000 and shift half the costs of teacher pensions to local governments. There's outright hostility for the governor's separate proposal to apply the sales tax to gasoline to fund transportation projects.
Also pending are environmental initiatives by O'Malley, a Democrat, to promote an offshore wind industry, increase the water usage fee known as the "flush tax" and to curb the growth of large developments dependent on septic systems.
And the wild card: There is a proposal to expand gambling to Prince George's County and to allow table games such as poker at the state's existing casinos.
But all are taking their place in line behind the budget, which under Maryland's Constitution must be balanced.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller says that his chamber is readying a spending plan — a so-called "doomsday budget" — that closes the $1 billion gap with about $500 million in additional cuts to O'Malley's plan.
Making reductions of that magnitude can come only from two places — the education of children and health care for the poor. Such cuts would take the place of bringing in more revenue through tax increases.
Miller, a Democrat who represents parts of Calvert and Prince George's counties, said the message to senators will be something like this: "If you don't want to vote for revenues, you're going to have to vote for these cuts."
Any votes to avoid such cuts by raising taxes will almost certainly have to come from Democrats. There appears to be no support for additional taxes on the Republican side in either the Senate or the House of Delegates.
Miller, a longtime advocate of increased transportation revenue, now says the Senate won't turn its attention to the governor's gas tax proposal until the budget is wrapped up. He said the same goes for the flush tax.
He said his main concern is finishing the session in its scheduled 90 days with a budget in hand.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said his leadership team is looking at a broad array of possibilities. One option seems off the table, he said, in that Miller has all but ruled out any increases or broadening of the sales tax. "You've got to work on a collaborative effort," Busch said.
Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said the House is considering a combination of taxes and fees along with additional cuts with an eye toward protecting K-12 education, higher education and health care.
"I don't think it will come down to all cuts," he said.
In contrast with some past years, Busch said there have been productive consultations between Senate and House fiscal leaders.
"There's been a very open dialogue with the Senate, and it's been appreciated certainly by our side," he said.
Assembly shifts attention from love to money
Legislators consider 'doomsday' cuts to balance the budget without tax hikes
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