“That’s what I’d like to do,” O’Malley said in a taped radio interview, also stressing that he is not the only player in Annapolis with a say on the issue.
O’Malley and his aides scrambled to clarify his intentions, later suggesting that the governor’s budget proposal, due to the legislature next week, is unlikely to include a sales tax increase, largely out of fear that the higher levy would be rejected by lawmakers.
Still, O’Malley’s comments — which caught senior aides and top lawmakers off guard — proved a major distraction on a day traditionally dominated by legislative ceremonies and welcome-back receptions hosted by lobbyists.
This year’s opening day also included a milestone: With his reelection as speaker of the House of Delegates for a 10th straight year, Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) became the longest-serving speaker in Maryland history.
Busch’s counterpart, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), was among those who criticized O’Malley for talking about a sales tax increase — an idea that Miller branded “a non-starter” and that he said O’Malley had not discussed with him recently.
“I don’t know why he said it,” said Miller, who was reelected Wednesday to lead his chamber for a 26th consecutive year. “I think it’s a sign to his far left that he hasn’t forgotten them, to say he doesn’t like cutting the budget and would like to do more.”
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil) was more forceful.
“It’s repulsive, and I mean that sincerely,” Pipkin said. “The pain for working-class families is palpable, so the fact the governor would even float the idea of a sales-tax increase as a possibility is unbelievable. What universe is he living in?”
If O’Malley’s political allies and opponents agree on one thing, it is that his performance over the coming 90 days will be under a microscope, perhaps more so than at any point since his first year in office.
He is pushing an ambitious and complicated agenda.
O’Malley would like lawmakers to invest more in transportation projects and is expected to detail a funding plan in coming days that will probably include a gas-tax increase. He is also expected to call for more funding to upgrade wastewater treatment plants through an increase on the state’s “flush tax.”
Several other controversial measures are on the governor’s agenda, including legislation to legalize same-sex marriage and to provide incentives to jump-start the state’s wind-power industry. O’Malley has scheduled an announcement Thursday on an affordable housing measure.