Legislative leaders agree special session is needed

By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun
12:54 p.m. EDT, April 10, 2012

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, whose clashes this year helped bring about a chaotic ending to the 2012 General Assembly session, agreed Tuesday that a special session is needed to fix Maryland’s budget.

But the man who would call such a session, Gov. Martin O’Malley, remained publicly noncommittal, brushing off questions about whether and when he would call legislators back to Annapolis to avert the deep cuts in the so-called “Doomsday” budget triggered by the legislature’s failure to pass a tax increase bill before the midnight Monday deadline.

The three men got together Tuesday morning for a somewhat awkward bill signing at which O’Malley expressed dissatisfaction with the work done under the leadership of the two men by his side.
While he praised the Assembly’s accomplishments in environmental legislation and the capital budget, O’Malley said the legislature’s failure to maintain spending levels for such priorities as public schools and higher education was “really a damn shame.”

O’Malley gave one hint that he will eventually do as the reseeding officers suggest and call a special session, which would have to pass a tax-raising bill and a measure shifting teacher pension costs from the state to the counties by July 1 if the state is to avoid more than $500 million in cuts.

The two measures died after legislative leaders broke a stalemate over budget issues with just hours to go before the legislature was compelled to adjourn under Maryland’s Constitution. The Assembly managed to pass the budget bill itself, but the companion measures fell victim to the deadline.

Miller played down the significance of the failure to pass the measures and was conciliatory toward Busch.

“We had an agreement and the clock ran out on us. The speaker couldn’t have worked any harder,” he said. “This is a minor bump in the road.”

The Senate president predicted that lawmakers and the governor will find a way to stave off the cuts, which would include a $59 million loss of state aid to Baltimore.

“We’ll come back and get it done in a one- or two-day session, and everything will be fine,” he said.

Busch agreed that the budget needs to be fixed – but not right away.

“You can’t until you have a plan,” he said.

In comments to reporters, the speaker showed he was still upset with the upper chamber’s handling of the budget and gambling issues, which became intertwined in the waning days of the session.

“Those senators ought to go home and defend that budget in front of their county councils and have a good time,” he said.