Governor Martin O’Malley weighed the successes of the 2012 legislative session against the failure of House and Senate leaders to reach a budget agreement before the session officially ended on Monday evening—calling the late night impasse a “damn shame.”
“The legislature failed to enact an operating budget that is anything like the plan either House came up with, and it is pretty far away from the plan that I submitted,” O’Malley said at a bill signing ceremony on Tuesday. “Our leaders were not able to come to the consensus that was necessary.”
But O’Malley highlighted the flush tax and new storm water fees as major achievements of the 2012 legislative session.
The deadlock triggered a doomsday budget that was agreed to by lawmakers earlier in the session–in the event the legislature could not pass a budget laced with unpopular tax increases.
The doomsday budget passed just an hour before the curtain fell on the session at midnight.
“It was a ‘plan B’ in case we couldn’t agree on a budget,” said Sen. James Raskin, D-Montgomery, in the moments after the session ended Monday night.
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Budget failure blamed on Miller’s obsession with casino bill
The tension between House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Michael Miller was the elephant in the room at Tuesday’s bill signing. Wide consensus among lawmakers and staffers blamed Miller for ransoming the budget to secure a casino for Prince George’s County by 2016—if approved by referendum in the November election.
“There is a lot of bad blood this time around,” said a close colleague of Busch, who chose anonymity. “Miller was upset that the Speaker didn’t have the votes in the House on the gaming bill, all Miller cared about was that damn casino.”
Back-to-back press conferences by O’Malley and Busch on Monday called for Miller to focus his priorities on the budget.
“If Senators are more concerned with the obsession of gaming than they are with school construction, school funding, hospitals, and higher education money…then let them wear it on their heads when the have to go home,” said Busch in the press bullpen at around noon on Monday.
O’Malley held a press conference minutes later accusing Senate President Mike Miller of misplaced priorities.
“There are 50,000 jobs supported by this budget and that has to be our top priority,” O’Malley said.
Jacobs points to Democratic disunity in budget breakdown
“They were playing games with the casino bill and that’s the main reason the budget didn’t pass,” said Del. Jay Jacobs, R-Kent. “We had a long period of down-time Monday afternoon where a lot of work could have been done…the casino was the major problem in not resolving the budget.”
There was a split among Democrats in the casino bill, especially in the Prince George’s delegation, which is usually unified. The planned National Harbor Casino would be located in Prince George’s County on the Maryland side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
“It was a really mixed bag in the House of Delegates,” Jacobs said. “Even the Prince George’s delegation was evenly split, so you knew it was going to be a hard sell for the whole House to agree to it.”
Special session likely
The Maryland Constitution requires the legislature to complete its work in 90 days from the start of the session. After the session expires, the governor can call special session.
The doomsday budget is now law, so no special session is required. “But it’s a near certainty the governor will call a special session,” said Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester.
Pain of budget cuts shared by counties and state workers
Cuts of $512 million go into effect July 1 unless a special session is called to bring revenues in line with administration’s spending priorities for fiscal 2013.
The cuts are spread around to education, law enforcement, health care, and local aid. The elimination of 500 state jobs and a 10% cut to community colleges, public schools, and universities is also mandatory.
Foster care and residential treatment programs also take a hit and all government agencies would see an 8% cut to operating budgets. State employees would go without a cost of living increase, which would save an additional $34 million.
Kent County will see a loss of $242,000 in funding to education and aid to local libraries will fall by $8,500 under the doomsday scenario.
Patricia Merritt, finance officer of Kent County said the cuts are in direct aid and that the Kent school system and the library would have to a make a formal request to the Commissioners to fill any gaps created by the cuts.
Pipkin thumbs down on a special session
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin said the Marylanders should not bear the cost of a special session.
“We should not have to pay one dollar for an additional session that raises taxes,” Pipkin said on Monday. “The Democrat monopoly had their chance over the last 90 days, and they couldn’t reach a consensus on tax increases…enough is enough.”
Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, said the state budget would have to endure the same challenges that households have during the Great Recession.
“The average Marylander has had to cut his or her budget, and now the government is going to have to cut its budget,” Colburn said.