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Editorial: A failure of leadership

When the train wreck known as the 2012 session of the Maryland General Assembly came to an ignominious end at midnight Monday, there was plenty of blame to go around.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, badly overplayed his hand in his single-minded quest to plop a billion-dollar casino into one of the counties he represents while also unleashing table games on Marylanders at the rest of the state’s gambling establishments.

Mr. Miller held the state budget hostage while pursuing his own gambling agenda, betting that the House of Delegates would cave in on gambling and then help him ram the budget and its attendant funding mechanisms through at the last minute.

Mr. Miller said he thought he had a handshake agreement on the deal with his House counterpart, Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel. But Mr. Busch, never more than a reluctant supporter of gambling, did not call for a vote on the House floor, apparently because entire delegations were withholding their support in hopes of getting last-minute sweeteners for their districts.

Meanwhile, where was Gov. Martin O’Malley during all of this? He emerged shortly after adjournment to scold legislators. Hours later he was more strident, saying that what happened was “a damn shame.”

But those petulant remarks blaming others begged an essential question: Why couldn’t a Democratic governor with heavy Democratic majorities in each house keep the legislature from such an embarrassing debacle?

By Thursday, Mr. O’Malley was beginning to accept some of the responsibility.

“Well, we managed to do something to ourselves that the Republican caucus couldn’t do to us in five or six years,” he said on WAMU Radio.

In a separate appearance on WTOP Radio, Mr. O’Malley said “We all hold blame,” referring to himself, Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch.

Indeed they do. Now that we all agree on that, where do we go from here?

It is tempting to let Mr. Miller twist slowly in the wind. Ironically, the so-called “doomsday” budget, which the Senate president conjured up as an option so unpalatable that legislators would support tax increases to avoid more than $500 million in cuts, is now the budget the state must live with barring a special session.

Meanwhile, Mr. O’Malley is playing the role of perturbed parent, sending Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch to their respective time-out corners to consider whether they are ready to play nicely together.

Truth be told, the “doomsday” budget wouldn’t be the end of the world for a year. But there is still much serious work to be done, including finding new revenue for badly needed transportation projects.

The responsible course of action is for the legislators to put aside personal agendas and return for a short session to take care of the people’s business.

We hope they do. And we hope they get it right this time.

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