The failure to bring the tax bill to a vote all but assured that for the first time in two decades work related to Maryland’s annual spending plan would continue beyond Monday’s scheduled end to the legislature’s 90-day session.
Without passing any further instructions on spending or revenue, the state would be required to make more than $512 million in funding reductions to schools and state programs beginning July 1.
Cuts to classrooms, libraries and police in Prince George’s would top $65 million, adding 50 percent to the county’s projected shortfall. Montgomery County would lose over $41 million, exacerbating its budget gap by a similar margin.
The implosion of weeks of negotiations over the tax package, as well as another key budget measure that failed to pass, sent the General Assembly into uncharted territory.
“I’ve been here since 1966 and it’s never happened,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), referring to his earliest days in Annapolis as a legislative staffer. “We have an agreement; we just ran out of time.”
The House of Delegates attempted an unprecedented maneuver to continue the year’s 90-day session, immediately at midnight, to keep alive the scores of pieces of legislation that never received a final up or down vote. But Miller refused to have his chamber go along , saying it was of “dubious constitutionality.”
Instead, with hundreds of onlookers crowded in the State House, and bags of balloons and confetti on hand for a customary final-night celebration, the two chambers instead quietly adjourned and said they would wait in Annapolis for instruction from Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
At a hastily assembled news conference before 1 a.m., as lawmakers shuffled out of the State House, O’Malley blasted the two chambers, led by members of his own party, for endangering spending on education, among other priorities.
“I think the people of our state have reason to expect more of our elected officials,” O’Malley said.
He gave no indication if or when he might call the General Assembly back to work.
But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said it was simply a matter of when.
A special session looms
The last time the state failed to reach a budget deal was in 1992. It went into an extended session limited to the budget and passed a spending plan four days later.
But this year’s scenario is much different, and in ways far more complex. The legislature passed a spending plan, but without a companion revenue package or another bill that has been used since the beginning of the economic downturn to tweak spending formulas on hundreds of state initiatives and keep the budget balanced.
Technically those bills — first introduced in January, vetted in public hearings, and massaged in dozens of negotiations since — died Monday and would have to be redrafted, introduced and debated. But early Tuesday, it was unclear what the process would be to reconstitute the measures, and how close lawmakers could pick up from where they left off.