Gov. Martin O'Malley says he won't call a special session of the General Assembly to fix what he and many other Democrats see as a devastating hole in the state budget until legislative leaders agree on a plan to fix it.
Raquel Guillory, the governor's press secretary, said Wednesday that O'Malley sees no point in bringing lawmakers back to Annapolis at taxpayer expense unless they have an agreement on how to avoid more than $500 million in cuts that are scheduled to take effect July 1.
"Before we consent to a special session, there will have to be some consensus, some kind of compromise, reached by the leaders so that it's not an exercise in futility," she said.
A "doomsday" budget, with deep cuts to education and other programs, became law when the legislature failed on its final day Monday to pass a bill to raise income taxes and a companion measure to shift part of the cost of teacher pensions to county governments and Baltimore.
Some Republicans have said the budget cuts are appropriate. But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch have said a special session is needed to block the reductions, which would fall heavily on state employees and local governments.
Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, said the governor has a big role to play in forging any consensus.
"We need his input. We need his assistance in giving direction in terms of how he leads the state," Miller said. He recalled that when the legislature ended its session with similar problems in the early 1990s, he and then-House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. sat down with Gov. William Donald Schaefer and hammered out an agreement that passed by vary narrow margins.
But Miller said it's not as simple as three leaders getting together and reaching an accord that will pass.
"It's a democracy. People have to be talked to and heard from. People need to have their say," he said.
Miller said he still sees gambling as an issue that should be addressed in any special session. He supports allowing a sixth casino in Maryland, to be located in Prince George's County, and allowing table games in addition to the current slot machines at all six. A bill that would have put that proposal before state voters in November died on the last night of the session Monday when Busch appeared not to have sufficient votes in the House.
Miller pointed out that if the legislature does not put the issue on the ballot this November, the next opportunity won't come until 2014.
Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, declined to comment Wednesday, but members of his leadership team have said any special session should deal only with budget issues.
At least one Senate Democrat who otherwise supports gambling expansion agrees with that view.
Sen. James Brochin of Baltimore County said he would not vote for a casino bill in a special session even though he supported the Senate's gambling bill and would vote for one again in the next regular session. Brochin and Miller have often clashed.
Other Democrats from areas that would absorb deep cuts, including Sens. Lisa A. Gladden of Baltimore and James C. Rosapepe of Prince George's County, wouldn't rule out voting for gambling if a quick consensus can be reached. But they said the issue shouldn't be allowed to get in the way of passing the budget measures.
Rosapepe said he'd like to see a special session called as early as Friday to vote on agreements struck by conference committees to raise income taxes on those earning more than $100,000 and to shift the teacher pension costs.
But Sen. Roger Manno, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored a tax bill, said he doesn't want to go back to a conference agreement that left him and other senators dissatisfied. He said the Senate should pass its original tax bill again and restart the conference.
Miller rejected the idea of a quick return to Annapolis.
"What needs to happen is a cooling-off period," he said.