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Assembly adjourns with austere budget; gambling bill dies

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland General Assembly’s 2012 regular session staggered to a contentious close at midnight Monday with a “doomsday budget” in place that would have to be balanced with more than $500 million in spending cuts.

Caught behind the Senate and House of Delegates wrangling over the budget and a controversial effort to place a casino in Prince George’s County, stacks of other bills died at adjournment.

Legislative leaders quickly asked Gov. Martin O’Malley to call a special session as early as this week so they could repair some of the damage by raising certain taxes to head off deep reductions in programs and services and the loss of 500 state jobs.

An irritated O’Malley left open that possibility early Tuesday morning as he spoke to reporters.

“I’m going to talk to the [House] speaker and I’m going to talk to the Senate president,” O’Malley said. “There was 90 days to work all of this out.”

The cuts needed to balance the “doomsday budget” include deep reductions in spending for elementary and secondary education and higher education. Per-student K-12 funding would drop by $70.9 million and higher education funding would drop by 10 percent, or $38.5 million.

“On two important scores, the General Assembly failed to protect the important priorities that allow us to achieve a better future for our kids,” O’Malley said. “This is not the sort of operating budget that this administration proposed.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, said, “We did the best we could, we worked very hard. What we have to do now is come back in a special session.

“We need to have some revenues so we don’t regress in terms of education. … We’re going to start all over again.”

A new session could mean that multiple issues would again be on the table, including offshore wind legislation, a bill that would create rules to govern public-private partnerships and a potential tax on gasoline.

Miller said a gambling expansion was also still an important part of raising state revenue, but the House appeared to be short of votes needed to pass a bill allowing for a sixth state slots license and table games at all casinos.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said his chamber “started to slowly embrace” the gambling expansion, but the bill never came up for a vote on the floor after being passed out of the Ways and Means Committee late Monday afternoon.

The gambling expansion would have allowed a casino to be built at Rosecroft Raceway or National Harbor and would have barred that facility from operating until either 30 months after the Baltimore facility’s opening or July 1, 2016 – whichever came sooner. Table games would also be allowed at every state casino, with 60 percent of revenues going to the state.

Busch said he didn’t intend for gambling to play such a large role in the outcome of this year’s session.

“I’m not trying to make it a wedge [between Miller and I], but he made that his chief priority,” Busch said.

O’Malley will sign the bills that did pass in the General Assembly starting Tuesday at 10 a.m.