ANNAPOLIS -- House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. ruled out yesterday the idea of holding a special legislative session this fall to raise state taxes, saying tax talk is premature until two studies are completed.
Mr. Mitchell, D-Kent, said he first wants to see the results of the General Assembly's interim study of how Maryland government collects and spends tax revenue, due in late October, and the preliminary report of the governor's Commission on Economy and Efficiency in Government, due in mid-December.
The idea of a special legislative session in November to consider a tax increase to decrease the current fiscal year deficit -- estimated as high as $450 million -- has been pushed by Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. He has proposed raising the state's 5 percent sales tax to 6 percent, effective Jan. 1, to bring in an estimated $150 million in the final six months of the fiscal year that began July 1.
"All I'm saying is, if we're going to go with the sales tax [increase] in February, March or April, we might as well deal with it now," Mr. Levitan said yesterday.
Even if it is possible for the state to lay off employees and cut government spending sufficiently to balance the budget, the resulting level of services might be so low that it could jeopardize the state's coveted triple-A bond rating, he said.
Mr. Mitchell agreed that deep cuts in services and aid to local governments would cause "a lot of discomfort," but said the people would have to decide whether that is preferable to higher taxes.
After a working lunch with Gov. William Donald Schaefer at the governor's mansion yesterday, Mr. Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, announced that the three men are trying to bury differences and work together on the budget and congressional redistricting.
"I think we all know that to get the state moving forward, we have to start working together in some fashion," Mr. Mitchell said. The governor and the presiding officers have been at odds on countless issues, and in recent months have barely been on speaking terms.
But Mr. Schaefer described yesterday's luncheon as "one of the best meetings I've had with Clay and Mike in 12 or 14 months. They were cordial, understanding. There was no yelling at all. No 'You did this,' or 'You did that.' "
As evidence of their improved working relationship, Mr. Mitchell said he and Mr. Miller had sent the governor a revised redistricting plan they hope will be acceptable and avert a threatened veto.
Although the legislature probably would override such a veto, Mr. Miller in particular emphasized how damaging an override could be to the relationship among the three men.
Details of the revised redistricting plan were not disclosed, although Mr. Mitchell confirmed it would move precincts in the Dundalk and Essex area into a redrawn 1st Congressional District where incumbent Representatives Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, would be pitted against each other. Mr. Mitchell acknowledged the plan also would shift back to Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, some of the Howard County precincts he would lose under a redistricting plan proposed by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee. That panel tentatively scheduled a meeting today to consider the compromise plan.
Once a special legislative session on redistricting scheduled for Sept. 25 is over, the three men said they intend to work together on a solution to budget problems. Those problems include the current fiscal year deficit, and another deficit of $700 million or more for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 1992.