State lawmakers may not be in the mood to get back together after a contentious end to the 2012 General Assembly, but some interested parties say a special session needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Onlookers suggest the longer lawmakers are back in their home districts, the more time local officials have to press their own agenda with legislators.
At issue is a tax bill that, as drafted during the regular session, would raise the income tax on individuals making more than $100,000 annually and another bill that would shift the cost of teacher pensions to local jurisdictions. Also in the mix is a gambling expansion bill that was tied to the fate of the revenue legislation in the final days of the session.
Some counties would be happy if the state’s fiscal house stayed in its current order — with steep cuts for some counties, yes, but without the permanent shift of teacher pension costs.
If the assembly isn’t reconvened soon, lawmakers may have little interest in returning to Annapolis if all there is to do is agree on a multifaceted plan House of Delegates and Senate leaders appeared to hammer out late Monday evening. After some time at home, delegations could seek more sweeteners.
Further complicating matters, most Maryland counties have early June deadlines to adopt their own operating budgets. Only Allegany County, Caroline County and Baltimore City can wait until the end of the fiscal year to adopt their budgets.
The “doomsday” budget enacts large cuts in state appropriations to local jurisdictions. Counties and Baltimore City would have to adjust their spending based on the sudden elimination of those funds.
If they’re not already, counties will soon have to start drawing up two different budgets — one taking the “doomsday” cuts into effect and another that assumes local funding will be restored in a special session.
If Gov. Martin O’Malley and the legislature intend to act, they need to act soon, said Andrea Mansfield, legislative director for the Maryland Association of Counties.
“The sooner, the better,” she said. “The longer it goes, the uncertainty is going to remain. … Something early May would be ideal.”
O’Malley, who could call a special session with an executive order, has given no indication of when he would do so. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., or House Speaker Michael E. Busch could also call the session if a majority of lawmakers approve.
State leaders must try to strike a balance between a cooling off period — which Miller said was needed — and haste, at least for the sake of local jurisdictions’ fiscal decisions.