LOBBIES ‘HYBRID’ PROPOSAL
TO FAILURE ON THE FLOOR
SPECIAL SESSION IS LIKELY RESULT
By Alan Z. Forman
When the Maryland General Assembly adjourned its 90-day session Monday night, it left hanging in the balance major revenue legislation dramatically affecting state spending on education and other priorities, which will likely necessitate the governor’s calling a special session to resolve the unresolved issues.
By not voting on a package of tax increases on high-income earners and a bill to build a major casino in Prince George’s County, the legislature “failed to protect the priorities that allow our state to move forward,” Gov. Martin O’Malley charged at a hastily called press conference close to 1 a.m. as the state’s lawmakers left the State House following adjournment.
The General Assembly however approved a balanced budget but ran out of time before passing accompanying legislation to raise income taxes and shift teacher pension costs to the state’s 23 counties and Baltimore City.
Shortly before midnight — at which time law requires the 90-day session must end — the House of Delegates passed a resolution to extend it; however Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-27th), of Prince George’s County, refused to have the State Senate go along, declaring such extension to be of “dubious constitutionality.”
Miller has been Senate President more than a quarter century, since 1987.
SPECIAL SESSION IS LIKELY
The General Assembly’s inaction increased the likelihood that O’Malley, who blasted both the House of Delegates and State Senate — both led by members of his own party — for their failure, would call a special session to reach a budget deal.
The governor had proposed a plan, which did not pass, to raise the state gasoline tax to offset the costs of education and other priorities.
Except for the tenure of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer it was a rare occasion to see a Democratic governor roundly criticize the leadership and members of his own party for failing to live up to what O’Malley said “the people of our state have reason to expect… of our elected officials.”
Also left unvoted was legislation that would have created a so-called “hybrid” elected/appointed school board for Baltimore County, which was heavily lobbied against by County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, who attempted to influence the chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee to not bring the bill to a vote and to allow it to die in committee as the General Assembly adjourned.
FIRST TIME IN TWO DECADES
It was the first time since 1992 the state failed to reach a budget deal. On that occasion 20 years ago the legislature went into extended session limited only to the budget that required four days to complete.
But not resolving revenue issues in the current session left unanswered questions of where the legislature goes from here regarding scores of bills it failed to afford a final up or down vote, among them legislation to build a major casino in Prince George’s County.
At his early-a.m. press conference Tuesday morning the governor seemed visibly angry at having to deal with what he said was a “distraction” from the state’s important legislative agenda.
“The Republic was not built on gambling gimmicks… bingos, or on bake sales,” he asserted.
“The future is not a gift, it’s an achievement. And on two important scores, the General Assembly failed to protect the important priorities that allow us to achieve a better future for our kids.”
EDUCATION AND AFFORDABLE COLLEGE
“One of those is education, the other is affordable college.”
The General Assembly’s inaction causes $512 million in automatic state budget cuts, including nearly $129 million in grants to Maryland’s largest school districts as well as cutting $60 million from the $600 million allocated for higher education, and reduces funding for grade school pupils by $111 per student.
The Baltimore County School Board legislation would have added six elected members to a panel that is now totally appointed by the governor, based on recommendations from the county executive.
Five school board members would have continued to be appointed.
Nationwide nearly all school boards are elected, as are most in Maryland. However Washington D.C. has a hybrid board, with five elected and four appointed members who must then be confirmed by the District’s City Council.
“I am extremely concerned that introducing an elective component will introduce racial and religious tensions where none exist today,” Kamenetz wrote to House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Sheila E. Hixson (D-20th), of Montgomery County, urging her not to bring the legislation to a vote and telling her essentially that what he believes isn’t broken doesn’t need to be fixed.
A PYRRHIC VICTORY FOR KAMENETZ
It was a Pyrrhic victory for Kamenetz: A bill creating a hybrid school board for the county had previously passed the State Senate and had heavy support in the House of Delegates.
However Kamenetz told Hixson he was convinced that an elected panel without separate taxing authority would “advocate fiscally irresponsible positions, creating an adversarial relationship with County government” especially at a time when it would be disadvantageous to make such a “drastic change” in the wake of the recent hiring of new Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, 30, who is scheduled to take office July 1.
At about 11:30 p.m. after delegates from Baltimore County issued an ultimatum to the Speaker of the House and threatened to vote en masse against a compromise gambling bill that also never made it to the floor, the Ways and Means Committee voted 16-2 to concur with the Senate amendments, which would have assured passage.
The bill was the next piece of legislation up for a vote as the clock struck midnight.
Sixty more seconds and it would have become law.
READ MORE ABOUT THE MONDAY NIGHT ADJOURNMENT OF THE 2012 MD. STATE LEGISLATIVE SESSION (click here) and (here) and about the failure of the Baltimore County School Board legislation (click here).