ANNAPOLIS — After a wildly surprising budget meltdown this week in the General Assembly, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday he accepts some responsibility for the failure to replace $512 million in spending cuts with a package including tax hikes and alternate savings, and he expressed uncertainty about when — or even if — he would call a special session to try again.
The Democratic governor also made the painful admission that the state’s vastly outnumbered Republicans have prevailed by default so far in this year’s budget debate due to a lack of Democratic leadership, including his own. The Maryland Senate has 35 Democrats and 12 Republicans. The House of Delegates has 98 Democrats and 43 Republicans.
“Well, we managed to do something to ourselves that the Republican caucus couldn’t do to us in five or six years,” O’Malley, who is in his second term, said on WAMU’s “Kojo Nnamdi Show,” which was hosted by Matt McCleskey.
Maryland Republicans were quick to pounce on a governor they say is more interested in national political ambitions than running a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1.
“This dysfunctional leadership is a disservice to the Marylanders who sent them to Annapolis to do the people’s business,” said David Ferguson, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, in a statement Thursday. “After this fiasco, the question must be asked, ‘Is Martin O’Malley the worst leader in America?'”
The governor also mentioned that he might not call a special session. It has been widely believed he would call one. Lawmakers adjourned from their 90-day session at midnight Monday after a weird and chaotic day and night with a budget more like the one Republicans sought than the Democratic version.
“We may well have to live with these cuts if we’re not able to reassemble the consensus that eluded us in those closing moments of the Legislature,” O’Malley said. “I hope that we don’t.”
10-to-13 percent college tuition increase possible
The cuts would have a big impact on education. O’Malley noted that the University System of Maryland Board of Regents was scheduled to meet Friday. Instead of a 3 percent tuition increase, O’Malley said they may need to consider a 10 to 13 percent hike to address cuts the state’s colleges and universities would take under the so-called “doomsday” budget that went into effect in place of the revenue package.
O’Malley criticized himself and top legislative leaders for the handling of the state’s $35.6 billion budget during appearances on television and radio Thursday morning before heading to a Washington Nationals baseball game in the nation’s capital.
Speaking on WTOP-FM’s “Ask the Governor” program, O’Malley said “we all hold blame.” He was referring to himself and to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, who are both Democrats.
O’Malley asserted that a tenacious push by Miller to allow a casino in Prince George’s County played an unnecessary role in the budget collapse. Maryland law currently allows five casinos, and Miller pushed to allow a sixth in a county that comprises much of his legislative district.
On WAMU, O’Malley said he is “pretty ambivalent” about the extent of using gambling to help fund state priorities like education and public safety.
“But I don’t believe that whether we have five sites in Maryland or six sites in Maryland is worth bringing down the entire state budget and undermining public safety and public education,” O’Malley said. “I just don’t see it as an issue that should do that.”
Skeptical about quick resolution in special session
Miller, for his part, has described the failure of the revenue package as a minor bump in the road that could easily be addressed in a special session lasting one or two days. The Senate president said a compromise had been struck to raise income taxes on people who make more than $100,000 a year, but lawmakers simply ran out of time.
O’Malley, however, sounded skeptical on Thursday whether it would be so simple, now that lawmakers would have to start over by reintroducing the legislation in a special session.
“If they can get it together in a day or two, God bless them,” O’Malley said.
While O’Malley sounded particularly confounded by the Senate president’s insistence on the additional casino, he also noted that he had thought expanding gambling to allow six casinos was part of a compromise.
“Whether that was a true consensus or one that was agreed to with fingers crossed behind backs, I’m trying to sort out right now, Matt,” O’Malley said to the WAMU host. “And I think it’s a question that the speaker and the president need to ask one another and ask their members, and so I’m looking forward to getting Maryland back on track.”
Busch, D-Anne Arundel, has long been a gambling skeptic who fought Miller over gambling. Busch sought to extend the session late Monday, when he realized there was not enough time to follow through the plan. But the Senate did not agree to a resolution to extend it, after Miller cited questions about the constitutionality of the move.
In an earlier appearance on Fox5 Morning Show on WTTG in Washington, O’Malley said he would be willing to call a special session in a half an hour, if a consensus had been reached by the presiding officers.