General Assembly adjourns without finishing work -- Gazette.Net


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There was no balloon drop, no confetti, no celebration.

Maryland lawmakers adjourned Monday night without passing a tax plan to balance the state’s $36 billion budget.

The failure to pass the tax package, which budget leaders blessed around 8 p.m., triggers the so-called doomsday budget, which includes $512 million in cuts to education, libraries, public safety and numerous other programs across the state.

Gov. Martin O’Malley would not say early Tuesday morning whether he will call for a special session or when it will be if he does.

Senate Pres. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27 of Chesapeake Beach) said he would formally request the additional session to take up the failed tax plan, a bill that would expand gaming in the state and other priority bills.

A special session would also open the door for renewed efforts on administration priorities, including a wind bill and public-private partnership bill that died in the regular session, and a sales tax plan that O’Malley says is needed to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.

It was an end to the session not seen in years and seemed to take many by surprise.

Even in the waning hours of the session, lawmakers agreed to a number of concessions to get big bills passed. A prolonged debate in the Senate over a stormwater regulation bill that ultimately passed both chambers held off a vote on the tax plan until the last 16 minutes of session.

In the House, the entire chamber broke into Democratic and Republican caucuses 30 minutes before midnight. When everyone arrived back in the chamber, House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg proposed a resolution that would extend the session five days to take care of unfinished business. After a few minutes of quibbling over whether the resolution garnered enough votes to take effect, Busch gave up and moved on to other bills.

All around, lawmakers expressed disappointment in the truncated session.

“I’m trying to find the right word. I don’t know that there is one word. What I can say is that in the budget that was passed, we failed to protect the priorities that allow our state to move forward,” O’Malley said at a news conference just before 1 a.m. “That is not in keeping with what the people of our state expect of their legislature, especially in difficult times.”

The House and Senate leaders blamed one another on the failure of the budget.

“It’s pretty evident that our counterparts in the Senate slow-played all the budgetary bills, and the revenue bills … so they would not be available to be voted on at the appropriate time,” Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis said. “There was no reason why the revenue package, the budget package, and all the other initiatives that everybody worked so hard on couldn’t have been passed three days ago. [But] we couldn’t get the Senate to get into a conference committee to agree, and they got exactly what they wanted at the end.”

Miller pointed out that the Senate ultimately passed more of the budget than the House was able to.

“We got three-fifths of the legislative budget packages done. The House got two-fifths done,” Miller said. “We did the best we could. We worked very hard.”

The session’s final day was fraught with delays and accusations from lawmakers that House action on a bill to expand gaming was being delayed until the Senate agreed to a budget compromise, and that Senate action on a budget agreement was being delayed until the House moved forward on the gambling legislation.

The stalemate appeared to end in the evening, when the bi-cameral conference committee on the budget came to an agreement and the House Ways and Means Committee amended and passed a gaming bill the Senate had approved in March but had stalled in committee.

The Baltimore city delegation threatened to withhold its support of the bill, which some members felt could threaten the success of a planned casino in the city. By Monday evening, the delegation appeared ready to support the bill, after Del. Curt Anderson (D-Dist. 43) told members that lawmakers had secured $2.5 million for plans to expand the city’s convention center and the ability to borrow more money for school funding.

The gaming compromise would have called for a voter referendum to allow a sixth slots facility in Prince George’s County and allow table games at all existing slots locations. If a majority of voters in Prince George’s approved of bringing gaming to the county, the General Assembly would have had to pass separate implementation legislation in the 2013 session.

The plan did away with proposed changes to how slots revenue is divided between the state and casino operators and does not alter the formula for calculating education funding.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) had advocated putting a high-end, $1 billion casino at the mixed-used National Harbor development in Oxon Hill, which officials hoped would draw visitors from Virginia and Washington, D.C.

After the committee vote, Baker said he was pleased with the legislation.

“This is a giant step forward,” Baker said, before it became clear the Assembly wouldn’t finish its planned work for the session.

dgaines@gazette.net