O'Malley will seek budget without tax increases but urges 'an open mind'

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 7:45 PM

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said he and legislators should keep an open mind about raising taxes in the 90-day session that starts Wednesday, even as he repeated a pledge to propose a budget balanced entirely with spending cuts.

With the state facing a shortfall of about $1.3 billion next year, O'Malley (D) said Tuesday that the budget he submits to lawmakers next week should be viewed as "the first word, rather than the last word" on taxes and spending cuts.

"I think it's important that all of us, whatever our starting points are . . . keep an open mind," O'Malley told reporters after an annual presession luncheon in Annapolis hosted by the Maryland Democratic Party.

He called the budget proposal the most difficult he has crafted since taking office in 2007 and acknowledged that it will likely include cuts to education.

"Will we be able to shield it totally from any cuts?" O'Malley said. "That's probably impossible. But we will be able to protect it as a priority."

O'Malley also used his address to the partisan gathering to preview some of his initiatives for the session, including legislation intended to spur investment in offshore wind farms and to create $100 million in venture capital for emerging businesses.

Several other bills are expected to be vigorously debated this session, including legislation to legalize same-sex marriage and provide in-state college tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants.

Lawmakers are also planning to make changes to the state's pension programs, and they will debate several gambling issues, including whether to legalize table games at Maryland's slots casinos.

Despite O'Malley's stand on taxes, some leading lawmakers are advancing plans to raise additional revenue, both to offset anticipated cuts to programs and new initiatives.

During Tuesday's luncheon, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) continued to push his plan to raise the gas tax to fund transportation projects, noting that it has remained unchanged since 1992.

More lawmakers have also signed onto a plan to raise the state's alcohol taxes by a "dime a drink" to pay for health-related priorities.

No tax proposals are likely to garner support from Republicans, who met Tuesday for a series of policy briefings from administration officials as Democrats convened for lunch.

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