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Lawmakers weigh in on special session

On April 9, the regular Maryland General Assembly session ended without having passed a balanced budget.

On Monday, May 14, and Tuesday, May 15, state legislators are to rejoin for a special session to try again to prevent the so-called doomsday budget from being enacted, which includes about $500 million in cuts.

In order to prevent the doomsday budget, Maryland's legislators will consider either proposed tax increases or other areas in the budget where cuts might be made.

A proposed income tax increase would affect individuals who earn $100,000 or more and couples who earn $150,000 or more.

"I voted against the tax increase that was put forth in the senate last year," Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11th) said.

The Washington Post reported on May 4 that the tax increase for those earning $100,000 or more would be 0.25 percent and 0.5 percent for couples who earn $150,000 or more.

In the budget as it stands, the $500 million in cuts would come from k-12 education, higher education, and public safety.

"The reality is, there are plenty of cuts that would not have an impact on people's lives in such a direct and meaningful way," Zirkin said.

He suggested taking a look at funding for the future mass transit red line, and purple line systems that would run east-west and connect the MARC and Amtrak train systems, respectively.

"I'm in favor of mass transit, however, there is $119 million of planning money for two lines that won't be built for decades," Zirkin said. "When you have to go to people and ask for additional tax money, that's not the time to be spending on projects like that."

Delegate Dana Stein (D-11th), however, hasn't made up his mind yet on whether he is in support of the tax increase or not.

"Hopefully it'll be a very quick special session so that things don't get delayed very long," he said.

Stein said that he does, however, support revisiting the proposed $500 million in cuts to education, higher education, and public safety.

"We really should have taken care of things, but it is what it is at this point," he said.

The Maryland General Assembly may also hold a second special session this summer to address the issues surrounding expanded gambling options in Maryland.

"It seems like there is going to be a study done about the impact of expanded gambling," Stein said.

Recent reports indicate that the state has hired professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct the study.

"I don't think that that is a good idea at all, at most there should be one [special session] and, quite frankly, this should have gotten done in the regular General Assembly," Zirkin said.

The second gambling special session could be held in mid- to late-summer.

For more information go to http://mlis.state.md.us.

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