The Washington Post

Md. leaders anxiously eye ‘fiscal cliff’ as legislative session looms

Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch, (D-Anne Arundel) (Marvin Joseph — The Washington Post)

Maryland legislative leaders said Thursday they are anxiously watching negotiations on the “fiscal cliff” in Washington as they decide whether to move forward on transportation funding and other priorities in the state’s upcoming 90-day session.

“We’re all very concerned with what’s taking place in Washington, D.C.,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said after an afternoon meeting with Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert).

O’Malley, who summoned the legislative leaders to his office, did not speak to the media following the 50-minute meeting.

In separate discussions with reporters, both Miller and Busch said the meeting touched on a wide range of issues related to the session that starts Jan. 9, including the state budget and legislation on the death penalty, wind energy and transportation funding.

Moving forward on a transportation package becomes far more difficult, both legislative leaders suggested, if federal income taxes rise on most Marylanders and the state experiences major job losses in industries tied to the federal government.

During the last 90-day legislative session, O’Malley proposed applying the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gasoline, a move that was estimated to raise more than $600 million a year for transportation projects. That bill did not pass in either chamber.

O’Malley has not said whether he plans to push similar legislation again.

The governor has pledged to re-introduce a bill that would jump-start the state’s wind-power industry through state incentives. That bill, which could lead to increases in electricity rates for consumers, may also face resistance if federal taxes increase.

The governor, meanwhile, has been coy about his intentions on the death penalty. Aides say he has yet to make a decision on whether to sponsor a bill that would repeal capital punishment in the state.

Busch told reporters that the Senate would have to take action on the measure first. In 2009, when O’Malley last sponsored a death penalty repeal bill, the Senate balked, opting instead to tighten the evidentiary standards in capital cases.

Miller declined to comment on that issue. “What we’re going to do is wait and see what the governor’s legislative package looks like,” he said.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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