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What to expect in Annapolis this week

Del. Maggie McIntosh, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee has been working with her Senate counterpart, Edward J. Kasemeyer, to smooth out any problems before the budget conference.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee has been working with her Senate counterpart, Edward J. Kasemeyer, to smooth out any problems before the budget conference. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

The Maryland Senate and House of Delegates are expected to conference this week on the one thing they are required to do by the Maryland Constitution — pass a balanced budget.

Budget conferences are sometimes dramatic, sometimes not. It depends on the issues at stake, the personalities of the chief negotiators and sometimes seemingly unrelated matters that are in fact crucial.

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This year, the differences between the Senate and House budgets are relatively small. Both want to restore education funding, state employee pay raises and Medicaid coverage cut by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. And there's no issue on the table to sidetrack them like casino gambling, which helped turn the rancorous 2012 budget conference into a train wreck.

The two chief negotiators, Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore and Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer of Howard County, are by all reports working very well together to smooth out issues even before the conference. Kasemeyer has led the Senate team since 2010. McIntosh is in her first year heading the House Appropriations Committee and has won kudos for her performance so far.

With two weeks to go until the end of the General Assembly's annual 90-day meeting, floor sessions will get longer and hearings will get shorter. An interesting one comes Wednesday when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller presents his bill to end the requirement that counties impose storm water fees — the "rain tax" everybody's been hearing about.

Miller will be urging House Democrats to hand Hogan a political victory — even if it is largely symbolic. State officials have already told counties they don't have to impose the fee as long as they find another way to pay for projects to keep polluted runoff from washing into the Chesapeake Bay.

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