Lawmakers are planning to convene in the fall for a session devoted to redrawing congressional district lines.
But in a letter sent this week to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) proposes a far more robust agenda.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday, provides few specifics. But it is certain to spark debate in coming weeks. Miller calls for action in three areas:
* Closing a continuing “structural deficit” in Maryland’s operating budget with “increased revenue.”
* Addressing a backlog of transportation needs with “greater contributions from the users and beneficiaries of our public infrastructure.”
* And generating additional budget savings by “sharing” teacher pension costs with the counties.
In Maryland, the state picks up the pension costs of local teachers. During the previous legislative session, at O’Malley’s initiative, lawmakers restructured benefits and contributions for state workers and teachers. But none of the nearly $1.4 billion cost was shifted to counties.
“Sharing of teachers pension costs ... continues to be good fiscal and public policy,” Miller wrote in the letter, which was also sent to House and Senate members Wednesday. “There is simply no justification for the State funding the entire cost of this subsidy to local government next year.”
Miller did not propose raising any specific taxes or fees in his letter. In the past, he has been a strong advocate of raising the gas tax to benefit transportation projects.
O’Malley recently convened a group to talk about that and other ideas to raise revenue for transportation but made no commitments on any initiatives or their timing.
In recent weeks, the governor has talked up the need to invest more money in the state's roads and mass transit. Last week, O'Malley told a gathering of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce that raising the gas tax alone would not go far enough because it is a "declining revenue source."
The governor was not immediately available Wednesday to respond to Miller's letter as he raced between a speech in downtown Washington to an appearance at a television station. But O'Malley's spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said there "haven't been any decisions about what we are or aren't going to tackle during a special session."
On pensions, Abbruzzese pointed to the steps the governor and the General Assembly took during the session that ended last month to address the state's growing liability. Lawmakers moved to overhaul the troubled pension system in part by having teachers and public employees set aside a greater share of their pay for retirement benefits.
"Now we need to take a look at cost-sharing," Abbruzzese said. "The governor has not been inclined to simply shift [the cost] to counties."
Miller closed his letter by requesting that legislative leaders start meeting as soon as possible to reach a consensus on a session agenda.