- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
So the General Assembly couldn’t get its basic task — approving a state budget — done during a regular session. And that was with a legislature in which both chambers are dominated by the Democrats and the governor is from the same party.
Now, there’s serious talk of holding not one, but two, special sessions within the next few months. A mid-May session would specifically address the budget, with the state facing a default spending plan if action isn’t taken on the governor’s fiscal 2013 budget. Some $500 million in cuts would take effect July 1 under the so-called doomsday budget.
A second session in the summer could address gaming, an issue dear to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) of Chesapeake Beach. Of course, there’s been much speculation about whether Miller scuttled a possible budget deal in the closing minutes of the regular session because gaming was getting a cold shoulder in the House of Delegates.
Although the current intent is to limit a second session to gambling, advocates for transportation, offshore wind energy and other issues still want their say. Could a third special session be on the way?
On the one hand, it seems logical to unbridle the budget from contentious issues so the state deadline can be met and counties are given enough time to firm up their spending decisions. On the other hand, the special sessions are a cruel reminder of legislative inaction.
Plus, there’s the little matter of the cost of a special session to Maryland taxpayers. While the projected price tag of about $25,000 a day, according to the Department of Legislative Services, might not seem like a lot of money in the grand scheme, it can certainly add up fast in two special sessions.
Worse, calling special session(s) sends a lousy symbolic message regarding belt-tightening in tough economic times. As the state grapples with reining in a $1.1 billion structural deficit, its leaders are almost cavalierly bringing back the legislature — likely more than once — while the meter runs.
There’s no doubt important issues still need addressing in Maryland. The Transportation Trust Fund, depleted over the years, must be replenished to repair and upgrade the state’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Expanded gaming, while vilified by many, also deserves a full airing. The state might have taken excruciatingly long to hop on the slots bandwagon, but now that limited form of gaming seems outdated and shortsighted compared with the table games operating in neighboring states.
Still, there always will be issues that get brushed aside or inadequately handled. The fact that the legislature couldn’t get its work done in its regular three-month session remains a disgrace.