Last month, O'Malley and the two presiding officers agreed on a plan to phase in an increase in Maryland gas taxes — starting with a 4-cents-a-gallon rise July 1 and potentially reaching 20 cents in 2016.
"When the three of us are on the same page ... it's a pretty formidable coalition," O'Malley said.
Most rural legislators opposed the bill amid complaints about the state's spending on mass transit. But with the support of lawmakers from the Washington and Baltimore areas, Miller and Busch muscled the measure through. With other changes, including a $3.50 increase in the vehicle registration fee and higher Maryland Transit Administration fares, the overall package is expected to yield $734 million a year for transportation projects when fully phased in.
There was little the Republican minority could do to stop the juggernaut except deliver angry speeches and warn of electoral consequences. O'Donnell predicted that Democrats would "rue the day" they voted to raise the gas tax.
Miller said he's not worried that the 27 members of his chamber who voted for the tax increase will be punished by the voters.
"The public does not like it, but they realize it had to happen," he said.
$1billion for city schools
Passage of the school construction plan was driven by events in Baltimore, where the alliance of city schools chief Andrés Alonso and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was essential to its passage.
Baltimore education activists had been pushing for several years for a comprehensive program to rebuild city school buildings, the oldest in the state. Just before last year's session, Alonso unveiled a $2.4 billion plan to float bonds backed with city and state money to pay for a major construction program. But the plan met with a chilly reception in Annapolis for several reasons, including its sheer scale and the fact that Alonso and Rawlings-Blake did not seem to be working together.
This year, the two came in as partners seeking a guaranteed grant of $32 million a year from the state for the next three decades. Early in the session, they won the support of Busch, who knew he would need the votes of city legislators to get a gas tax increase through the House.
Miller, wary of a scheme that he believed would use bonds to pay off other bonds, was skeptical — at one point describing the city's plan as "ridiculous." O'Malley was sympathetic but had concerns about the school system's ability to manage the money.
Busch wouldn't let the matter die. Weeks of negotiations and staff work led to a revised $1 billion plan — with a stronger state role in managing construction — that won the approval of O'Malley and Miller.
In the end, both chambers passed the measure with robust bipartisan support, an outcome that had seemed highly unlikely when the session began. The legislation is expected to finance construction of about 15 new schools and extensive renovations at 35 others.
Ending capital punishment
By winning repeal of the death penalty, O'Malley achieved a goal that had eluded him since he was elected governor in 2006. The last time he made an all-out push was in 2009, when he was forced to settle for a compromise that narrowed the circumstances under which prosecutors could seek capital punishment.
Then, in November, NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous announced that the civil rights organization would mount a sustained effort to end executions in Maryland as part of its long-term strategy to abolish capital punishment nationwide. Jealous met with O'Malley the next month and urged the governor to lead the charge again.
In January, Miller said that despite his personal support for the death penalty, he would guarantee a floor vote if the governor could line up the 24 votes needed in the Senate for repeal. Shortly after, O'Malley put repeal on his agenda.
Backers of the campaign found that the climate had changed since 2009. Polls were showing weaker support for capital punishment, especially when life without parole was presented as an alternative. Several states had ended capital punishment in the intervening years. O'Malley argued that the death penalty was expensive and ineffective.
And some lawmakers who had supported the death penalty in 2009 had rethought their position. Among them was Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who sits on the key Senate committee. When he switched his vote, saying that he was troubled by the possibility of executing the wrong person, the bill made it to the Senate floor.
Opponents described horrific violent crimes that they said clearly warranted punishment by death. But with exonerated former death row inmate Kirk Bloodsworth looking on, the Senate voted 27-20 last month to make Maryland the 18th state to abolish the death penalty. The next week, the House agreed, handing O'Malley the first of many victories this session.