- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) perhaps best summed up with these simple words the inexplicable failure of the General Assembly to come up with the funding for a state budget before adjourning at midnight April 9: “There was 90 days to work all of this out.”
So, with the requirement that the legislature approve a spending plan that balances the state’s books for the next fiscal year, Maryland, at least temporarily, is left with a “doomsday” budget that includes $512 million in spending reductions in areas such as education.
After the General Assembly adjourned, attention turned to O’Malley and whether he would call a special session to work out some likely tax initiatives to resurrect his budget. As of deadline Tuesday, O’Malley had not announced a decision on a special session.
It’s bad enough when the public is saddled with a broken Congress, but at least there’s an easy explanation — even if little consolation — as to why the federal legislative branch is dysfunctional. The legislative body is divided politically, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats with the Senate majority.
But the Maryland General Assembly? The Democrats are in firm control of both the House of Delegates and the Senate, and there’s a Democratic governor, to boot. It’s unfathomable that the session had to end without a comprehensive spending plan for fiscal 2013.
Besides an incredulous O’Malley, state Republicans, as to be expected, pounced.
Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s) of Elkton tweeted that the taxpayers were saved $600 million as the “failure to pass a funding source means we revert to doomsday budget.” But the doomsday budget is a non-starter, or rather a non-finisher. Even House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) of Lusby, in attacking O’Malley’s leadership and accusing the Democrats of mismanaging the state, seemed unhappy at the vague prospect of a doomsday scenario.
O’Malley deserves a good measure of blame as the state party leader and for serving up what Republicans characterized as “distractions,” such as a proposed expansion of the state sales tax to gasoline purchases, late in the session.
But the fact of the matter is a reasonable funding deal was within reach. Leading up to midnight April 9, negotiators agreed on the $36 billion state budget. And, the Senate came around to the House stance that an income tax hike to help pay for the budget shouldn’t hit individuals earning less than $100,000 and families making less than $150,000. Also, there was agreement on a phased-in shift of a portion of teacher pensions from the state to the counties. For a while, it even looked like the House was in agreement with the Senate on a bill to expand gambling in Maryland, including adding a sixth casino in Prince George’s County. But it never came to a floor vote.
Later, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) of Chesapeake Beach blamed the House for failing to reach agreement on taxes in a timely manner, while House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) of Annapolis accused the Senate of obsessing on expanded gambling. O’Malley, meanwhile, was clearly angry with both chambers.
At this point, even if a special session is called and a budget funding agreement forged, as predicted by Miller, lawmakers in both chambers have to live down the fact that the 2012 regular session ended in embarrassing fashion — without a viable budget deal for the first time since 1992.