Noting that the General Assembly opens next week, a Carroll County judge said yesterday that he will rule quickly on the constitutionality of $1.3 billion in tax increases approved by state lawmakers during their November special session.
Circuit Judge Thomas F. Stansfield heard arguments yesterday from an assistant attorney general and the lawyer for the Republican lawmakers who are suing to nullify the tax increases that went into effect this week.
Rather than rule immediately on the case, Stansfield said he would put his opinion in writing.
The Republican lawmakers claim that Democratic leaders in the General Assembly acted improperly by allowing the Senate to take a five-day break during November's special legislative session. The state constitution requires either body to seek the other's approval if it takes more than three days off.
"I don't know how you consent to something you didn't know about," said Irwin R. Kramer, the attorney representing the five GOP lawmakers and a local businessman in the lawsuit.
The attorney general's office argued that sufficient consent was given verbally by House and Senate leaders Nov. 12 and that a letter from the Senate requesting permission to adjourn until Nov. 15 was mistakenly dated Nov. 9.
"There was absolutely nothing improper here," said Austin Schlick, head of the attorney general's civil litigation division.
State lawmakers were aware of the extended break, he said, adding that GOP House members did object during the session and were rebuffed by the House of Delegates' parliamentarian.
Schlick also argued the alleged technical error does not justify the budgetary crisis that would ensue if the tax increases were voided.
Kramer countered that lawmakers begin work again Wednesday and could re-enact the tax increases properly.