O'Malley to discuss budget gap with legislators

The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley is scheduled to meet with legislative leaders early next week to discuss proposals to eliminate Maryland's projected $1.5 billion budget gap. O'Malley said his plan will be completed and announced soon.

At events in Bel Air yesterday, O'Malley hinted at an early November special session of the General Assembly to resolve the deficit and said he will soon begin a public dialogue about his plans.

"There won't be much more progress unless we get our fiscal house in order," O'Malley said. "There will be difficult decisions, but at the end of the day we can hold our heads high."

The governor, a Democrat, has been hinting for weeks at elements of his proposal, which he has said will include spending cuts, tax increases and legalizing slot machine gambling. But he has yet to reveal any details, to the frustration of many lawmakers.

"The budget will be done in transparent efforts as we talk about unpopular revenue options," O'Malley said during a Cabinet meeting in Bel Air.

When someone mentioned that Del. Susan K. McComas, a Harford County Republican, had arrived, O'Malley acknowledged her and said, "Keep the early part of November clear for me."

Talk about an early November special session has been floating around Annapolis for several days. O'Malley has said he wants a special session, which he thinks would allow for a more focused debate on the budget.

If November is the goal, he needs to get a proposal on the table soon, said Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., a Southern Maryland Democrat who serves on the Appropriations Committee.

To make a special session workable, legislators will need 45 to 60 days to examine a budget proposal.

"Whatever plan gets laid out there, the final product is going to look different," Bohanan said. "These things are works in progress, and they need to be shaped and formed. It'll be a better product if you have them out there and have time for everybody to have some input."

Sen. David R. Brinkley, the minority leader from Frederick County and a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said it is time for O'Malley to announce a plan.

"Democrats are looking for leadership, and it hasn't been appearing," Brinkley said. "I would hope he would entertain the notion of keeping the increases in the budget at the cost of living, and then we don't need tax increases. But it seems the train is leaving the station on raising taxes."

O'Malley said yesterday that he thinks additional investments are necessary for the state to maintain its quality of life. He said Maryland's spending on government programs as a percentage of its wealth is the lowest in the country.

"It is our responsibility to advance the common good. Our advance is coming up on an obstacle left in our path," he said of the looming deficit. "Our shared future will be about choices we need to make in the present."

andy.green@baltsun.com mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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