Maryland Republicans pushed back against what they said was an air of inevitability Tuesday around a special session to raise taxes after the General Assembly adjourned last week with a budget deal in disarray.
At a news conference in Annapolis, House Republicans charged that Democrats’ broken budget talks exposed that even without a planned tax hike on six-figure earners, Maryland will still afford to let overall spending rise in the budget year beginning in July.
The Democratic-led General Assembly adjourned April 9, having approved a spending plan, but not a package of tax hikes on high earners that would have allowed continued record funding for classrooms and other Democratic Party priorities.
If lawmakers do not return to Annapolis and raise taxes, discretionary spending would have to be trimmed by about $160 million — or 1 percent. Most of the reductions would come from supplemental education grants. Schools in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, along with those in Baltimore, would be the hardest hit.
With or without a special session, the legislature approved a higher “flush tax” on homeowners’ water bills and accelerated borrowing for environmental and transportation projects that would result in an overall spending increase of nearly $700 million — or roughly 2 percent.
“For all the hand wringing and wailing that we’re seeing … the bottom line is spending in this budget increases,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert). “It was not a budget that we would have crafted, but it does not demand a special session.”
Maryland Democratic leaders, labor unions, student groups, and advocates for the poor have dubbed the budget that passed a “doomsday” scenario.
House Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Talbot), called that a scare tactic. She said it would be more aptly described as a “coercion tool for tax hikes.”
“It was a bluff [by Democratic leaders] to force their more reluctant members to vote for tax increases. This scheme backfired and now they want a do-over,” she said.
With small minorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans have little chance of stopping a special session if called by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
O’Malley has said he would bring lawmakers back to Annapolis as soon as House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. agree on how to proceed.
O’Malley and Miller were scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon for the first time since the end of the session, when both the budget plan, and a measure to allow a casino in Prince George’s collapsed. Miller has said he wants to see both measures, as well as a plan to raise the gas tax revisited in a special session. Busch has said only the budget should be on the table.
Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin (R-Cecil) wrote to fellow lawmakers Tuesday saying none of it should be discussed.
“Why can’t Marylanders live with this budget for one year? Why must the governor call a special session, at the taxpayers’ expense, to increase the state income tax? These are questions we should ask our representatives. These are important questions Gov. O’Malley should answer,” Pipkin said.
Outside of the State House, lawmakers weren’t the only ones rallying against a special session and the likely tax increases it would bring. The Tea Party affiliate Americans for Prosperity Maryland launched a Web site: www.NoSpecialSession.com, where visitors could sign a petition to O’Malley, Miller and Busch:
“NO more spending. NO new tax hikes, and NO SPECIAL SESSION.”