ANNAPOLIS — Their fates were inextricably linked, and in the end legislation creating mandatory paid sick leave and a tax cut package both died in the waning hours of the 2016 legislative session.
Supporters of paid sick leave rallied outside the State House early Monday confident their bill was going to pass, only to see the measure fail in the Senate Finance Committee. Similarly, a tax cut package that excited Gov. Larry Hogan never got out of the House Ways and Means Committee.
But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., moments after the confetti dropped, hinted at the possibility of a one-day special session to deal with the two issues.
“We just couldn’t reach an agreement,” Miller said. “We tried very hard. We took care of everybody in the state top to the bottom.”
Miller said that the House only wanted tax relief for taxpayers in middle and lower brackets. Miler said a House amendment would have imposed taxes on large corporations and forced Hogan to veto the bill.
“We saved him from himself,” Miller said. “There is the possibility that the speaker and myself could call the General Assembly into session for a day.”
Hogan, for his part, said “overall it was a good session” but leveled criticism at lawmakers for failing to pass the tax relief package.
“This morning all of you and all of us thought we were this close for real, meaningful tax relief,” Hogan said. “Unfortunately the Speaker of the House and Senate president dropped the ball and failed to get it done. It’s very frustrating. You’ll have to go talk to them about what happened because frankly we don’t understand.”
Clash of priorities
What happened was a clash of priorities between the House and Senate. Legislators in the Senate passed a tax relief package that not only expanded the tax credit for low-wage earners but included tax credits for middle- and higher-bracket earners. But the House balked at the cuts for high-wage earners.
Meanwhile, a bill requiring paid sick leave for employees of private companies passed the House — further than it had gone before. Advocates believed a deal had been reached between the Senate Finance Committee and the House.
“It’s a hard day,” said Melissa Broome, deputy director of the Job Opportunities Task Force. “We were right at the brink of making this happen today.”
Broome added the “progress on the bill was outstanding this year. If there ever was an issue that is going to be teed up next year, this is it.”
Lawmakers, including Miller, said the individual fate of each bill were linked to the other.
Earlier in the day, Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R-Upper Shore and minority leader in the chamber, said paid sick leave was making a remarkable recovery after being declared dead last week. Hershey said the measure had become the subject of a horse trade in which the Senate passed an amended version of the bill in return for the House agreeing to pass a modified version of a tax cut package desired by the Senate.
“That’s what we’re hearing now,” said Hershey, a member of the Finance and Rules Committees.
Hershey made his comments following a Rules Committee voting session in which the paid sick leave bill was sent to the Senate Finance Committee. Hershey and two other Republicans on the Rules Committee voted against moving the bill to the Finance Committee.
A week ago, Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles and chair of the Finance Committee, said the bill, which was sent to the Senate with only a few days left in the 90-day session, was doomed to fail. But the desire to pass a tax cut package authored in the House briefly gave the sick leave measure new life Monday.
Middleton said he spent the weekend working with Del. Luke H. Clippinger, D-Baltimore and sponsor of the bill, on amendments that would lessen the effects on small businesses, including reducing the number of days that could be earned in a year and carried over as well as a limit on the number of days that could be accrued.
The Senate committee chairman said he has an agreement with Clippinger and the House to accept the amendments and save the bill from a lengthy and possibly deadly conference committee as the session moved to an end at midnight.
Hershey said that the version of tax cuts would have lowered rates for high earners and expanded the earned income tax credit, but would dropped a provision imposing a single-sales factor tax on multi-state companies.
‘Kind of petty’
As session wrapped up, Hogan found himself being criticized by Democratic county executives and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
“The Hogan administration has been very partisan in its support,” Rawlings-Blake said, explaining that the governor was slow to fund an open space measure and a program to demolish vacant buildings.
She also faulted him for canceling the Red Line light-rail project, replacing it with an overhaul of the city’s bus system system.
But Hogan did fund those programs in a third supplemental.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III was critical of Hogan’s actions on funding the Prince George’s Regional Medical Center. Hogan announced a bridge funding plan and put it in his budget earlier this year, but talks over a formal agreement broke down and the General Assembly passed legislation requiring the center be funded over five years.
Hogan was quick to respond.
“Oh, that’s surprising,” Hogan said when told of Rawlings-Blake’s criticisms. “I don’t have much reaction. The mayor’s opinion is what it is. I don’t think too many people agree with that. It just sounded kind of petty to me.”
“We’re the ones that funded all the school construction and put the money in for the hospital and got it done so Rushern really doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Hogan added. “The two biggest winners in this budget are Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. I’d prefer they just said ‘Thank you.'”