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ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland General Assembly opened its 2012 session today among pomp and talk of possible tax hikes.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) caused a stir in the State House when he broached the subject of a possible 1-cent hike in the sales tax during a morning interview on the Marc Steiner radio show.

Later in the day, during an interview with reporters outside the Senate chamber, O’Malley did not say that a sales tax hike would be part of his legislative package, but that it was an effective means of addressing a budget crunch when the legislature hiked the rate from 5 cents per dollar to 6 cents during a special session in 2007.

“Nobody liked doing it at the time, but because of those decisions we were able to come through this recession in better shape than other states,” O’Malley said.

Increasing the sales tax by a penny would enable the legislature to move through what is expected to be a session full of difficult financial concessions, O’Malley said, but he also recognized that there is little political will for such a move.

Although the governor is not committed to raising the sales tax, it is “one of many options” he is considering as he readies his proposed fiscal 2013 budget, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.

O’Malley also has said he is considering seeking hikes in the state’s 23.5-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax to pay for transportation projects and the so-called annual “flush tax” on water and sewer bills to fund Chesapeake Bay cleanup through the upgrade of sewage treatment plants.

Separate commissions that studied the issues in the fall recommended hiking the gas tax by 5 cents annually over the next three years and doubling the flush tax from $30 to $60 and eventually raising it to $90.

This week, O’Malley also announced that he would seek a near-record $370 million in school construction funding in the coming fiscal year. He touted the proposed funding as a way to upgrade and modernize aging schools and create construction jobs.

In an interview, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist . 27) of Chesapeake Beach reiterated his support of a gas tax hike as necessary to fund the state’s transportation infrastructure and to pay for the expansion of mass transit. He added that a hike in the sales tax “is not going to happen.”

“It was a mistake for him to even mention it,” Miller said of O’Malley.

Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton said the imposition of tax hikes would hurt Marylanders struggling with the effects of the recession and pledged that the GOP would fight them. He added that he was “stunned” that O’Malley would mention possibly raising the sales tax.

“What universe is he living in?” Pipkin asked. “It’s not the universe I see the citizens of Maryland living in.”

skelly@gazette.net

sbreitenbach@gazette.net