Gov. O’Malley Silent About Budget Special Session

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s Senate president expects Gov. Martin O’Malley to call a special legislative session on budget and gambling bills in the next few days.

But the governor, still sore over the General Assembly’s failure to pass a revenue-raising operating budget during the regular session that ended Monday night, refused to address the issue at a ceremonial bill signing Tuesday.

Until he does, the legislature’s failsafe doomsday budget remains in effect — a budget consisting of $512.2 million in cuts to local aid, largely to education and law enforcement.

“It was a fine session, it was a wonderful session, a very productive session,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “And the reason we passed the doomsday budget was to give people of false heart courage to pass taxes.”

In a radio interview Tuesday afternoon, Miller said a special session to pass a budget that raises more revenue would likely include negotiations on a proposed gambling bill to allow the construction of a casino in Prince George’s County and table games across the state.

“It’s about the state of Maryland and solving the state’s budget crisis without additional taxation,” said Miller, an avid proponent of a full-fledged casino site at National Harbor.

O’Malley wasn’t playing along, calling the failure to enact an adequate budget “a damn shame.”

Though he started by saying the budget was good in terms of job creation, funding school construction and classroom renovation projects, he decried the quarter-billion dollar cut to education and the effect local aid cuts would have on law enforcement’s efforts to reduce violent crime.

“So sadly, the operating budget was pretty much the low point of my experience here,” said O’Malley, who was first elected governor in 2006. “And it’s not for lack of work.”

House Speaker Michael Busch praised both houses for passing septic, storm water and bay restoration legislation.

But Busch and Miller appeared at odds when it came to the failed revenue package.

Busch smiled when Miller insisted he wasn’t pointing any fingers over the budget stalemate. But he faulted the Senate for failing to pass the budget revenue bill.

“I learned one thing when I played sports: If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score a touchdown,” Busch said later. “If you don’t have the revenue package, you can’t make a vote on it.”

An extended session would be the first since 1992, when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer issued an executive order to convene a “special and extraordinary session” immediately after Sine Die. That session lasted three days. Busch came to speak to Miller around 11 p.m. Monday, hoping to continue the session past the midnight cutoff and vote on the revenue package.

This had “dubious constitutionality,” Miller said, ending the session on time in his chamber.

Miller said his decision was based on a lack of precedent for the situation, outside of previous legislators physically turning the clocks back.

But some delegates felt Miller had other priorities.

“The President (Mike Miller) had some important legislation he wanted to have passed,” said Delegate Marvin Holmes, D-Prince George’s, referencing the gambling bill.

Still, the fate of the gambling bill remains unclear, with the state’s two legislative bodies divided. Holmes said Tuesday the bill was 20 to 30 votes shy of passing Monday night in the House.

This became a sticking point in the back-and-forth between the House and Senate late Monday night.

Delegate Melvin Stukes, D- Baltimore, said Miller wanted gambling to come through before the House’s revenue package would pass the Senate.

“You’ve heard of sitting on a bill,” Stukes said. “That’s exactly what this is.”

“This is really putting a gun to your head — big time,” he said.

While Miller said he and Busch can call for a special session, they are deferring to O’Malley.

When a reporter at Tuesday’s bill signing pointed out to O’Malley that he never mentioned a special session, the governor responded by pushing away the microphone in front of him: “No, I didn’t.”

Following the governor’s quick exit after the signing, Miller said of O’Malley, “He’s not a happy camper right now.”

Capital News Service’s Aaron Carter and Kelsey Miller contributed to this report.