GOP opens session with roar of protest

Republican lawmakers opened Monday's special session with a roar of protest, denouncing Gov. Martin O'Malley as a liar and vowing to fight the majority Democrats' plans to raise income taxes and shift part of the cost of teacher pensions to the counties.

Several dozen GOP senators and delegates held a news conference on the first floor of the State House and directed much of their fire at the occupant of the office on the floor above.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Calvert County Republican, told of hearing on the radio on the way  to Annapolis that lawmakers were coming into session to cut an additional $600 million in spending -- an interpretation he said had come from the governor's office.

"How can the chief executive of Maryland ..lie to the citizens of Maryland in this manner?" he said. ""We're coming here to raise their taxes."

Like other Republicans, O'Donnell promised a vigorous battle against the measures agreed on by O'Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

"We're the voice of opposition and we're going to give them heck over the next three days," he said.

Among the proposals the General Assembly will consider during what is expected to be a three-day session is a roughly $250 million income tax increase targeted at the highest-earning 16 percent of Marylanders. Also on the agenda is a phased-in, four year shift of part of  teacher pension costs to local jurisdictions.

Republicans trained their fire on both proposals. Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin charged that with the income tax proposal, previous tax hikes and increases in fees and tolls, O'Malley has become "the $2 billion man -- raising taxes on Maryland."

Pipkin, who represents the Upper Shore, said citizens should know "the special session is totally unnecessary" because the state already has a balanced budget -- passed during the regular 90-day session but without the companion tax and pension shift measures Democrats had intended as part of the package.

As a result, a series of contingency cuts that Democrats have dubbed the Doomsday budget would go into effect July 1 unless the Assembly approves the tax increase and pension measure duringt the special session.

While Pipkin had previously called the Doomsday cuts a "live within your means budget," he said Republicans would propose a plan this week that would go even farther -- chopping an additional $700 million from the state budget. That, he said, would not only make the tax hike and pension shift unnecessary but would eliminate the state's long-term spending-revenue gap known as the structural deficit.

Pipkin also denounced what he called the "lack of transparency" in the special session process, noting that the Democrats' final budget plan wasn't posted online until Friday.

Del. Michael Smigiel, an Upper Shore Republican, focused his ire on the plan to shift roughly hundreds of million of dollars each year in teacher pension costs from the counties.

"You're going to bankrupt the counties of the state of Maryland," Smigiel charged.

The Republicans drew some support from the Demopcratic side as Comptroller Peter Franchot released a statement echoing many of the points raised by the GOP in urging citizens to oppose the tax increase.

"I would ask that you demand that our state government follow the lead of working families throughout Maryland by living within its means," Franchot wrote.

Franchot said it is the wrong time to raise taxes, arguing that the state economy remains "exceedingly fragile."





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