What’s Next? Special Session Likely But Hurt Feelings Remain

As previously reported in Conduit Street, with the failure of the General Assembly to pass the Budget Reconciliation and Finance Act of 2012 (BRFA)  and legislation providing for anticipated State revenue increases the State’s operating budget will be balanced by signficant State and local aid cuts that were included in the budget as a contingency should the BRFA and revenue bills fail (the “doomsday” budget).  As the teacher pension shift to county governments was in the BRFA, that measure also failed.  However, it is likely that the General Assembly will reconvene in a special session sometime during the next 3-6 weeks to address the issue.  Before that can happen, however, Governor Martin O’Malley, Speaker of the House Michael Busch, and President of the Senate “Mike” Miller must reach some level of agreement over the remaining issues.  Given their apparent feelings over how the Session ended, this seems unlikely in the immediate short-term.

An April 11 MarylandReporter.com article discussed the mood of the Governor, Senate President, and House Speaker at yesterday’s first post-Session bill signing ceremony.

The body language seemed to convey the lingering hostility. Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch stood stiffly behind their chairs, waiting for Gov. Martin O’Malley to arrive at Tuesday’s bill signing.  …

The chill did not diminish when the governor appeared.  …

“Sadly, the operating budget was pretty much the low point of my experience here,” said O’Malley, who had set an ambitious agenda for the session. “We cannot change the past, but we can change the future.”  …

O’Malley would not discuss calling a special session either Monday night or Tuesday morning, shoving aside the microphone when a reporter asked him about it again.  …

Miller was the most upbeat of the trio, and the man the other two blamed for the chaotic end of session.

The article also discusses the reasons why a special session is likely:

The most compelling reason for lawmakers to come back to finish the job is that they failed to pass not just tax hikes, but the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act. This omnibus piece of legislation amends more than two dozen state laws, transferring funds and changing funding formulas and spending requirements affecting tens of millions of dollars. Without the BRFA (BUR-fa), the budget is incomplete and can’t be completely implemented. This includes the shift of some teacher pension costs to the counties.

With a week or two, the constituencies most impacted by budget cuts will have had time to get their members riled up: the teachers union facing loss of school funding, college students and administrators facing tuition hikes, state workers no longer getting their first cost of living raise in years.

Other constituencies also have pressing needs. The counties are about to finalize their local budget proposals, most of which must be passed by the end of May. They all depend on state funding. Over the last three years, the counties have lost much of their state aid, but they still need to know the final figure what they’ll get.

April 11 video MarylandReporter.com video of yesterday’s bill signing
An April 10  Baltimore Sun article also discusses the prospect of a special session and also the potential impact of “doomday budget” on counties:
O’Malley hinted that he will eventually do as the presiding officers suggest and call a special session. If the state is to avoid the steep cuts, it would have to pass by July 1 a tax-raising bill and a measure shifting some teacher pension costs from the state to the counties.  …

Prince George’s County, which had been on the verge of a very successful session, now faces a potential loss of $65 million in state aid. Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties will each lose about $14 million. Howard is looking at an $8 million hole.

A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the “doomsday” budget would result in “devastating” cuts to city schools and public safety programs. Spokesman Ryan O’Doherty said the budget would pare nearly $66 million from the city’s budget, including $10 million in cuts to law enforcement.  …

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat and a member of House leadership, said the cuts could force the city to raise real estate taxes by 25 cents per $100 of assessed value to maintain the same level of service. McIntosh said she wants to fix the budget, but would prefer that gambling not be on the table.

“Nobody’s happy to have a special session. One, it costs the taxpayers money,” she said.  …

Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, said there’s no need for a special session.

“We have a balanced budget,” he said. “We’ve done what was needed. Let’s go home.”

An April 10 Washington Post article provides further details:

But leading lawmakers predicted that the governor would summon the General Assembly back once the impact of the forced spending cuts had time to sink in and he and legislators could reach an informal agreement on what to pass.

“This is a minor bump in the road,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “We’ll deal with it in a one- or two-day session, and everything will be fine.”  …

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said he spent much of Tuesday sorting through budget options for the county if the legislature’s cuts were to take effect. He also said that he remains optimistic that a gambling bill will be resurrected in a special session.

Other Press Coverage

April 10 Washington Post blog post

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