ANNAPOLIS – Some lawmakers are predicting a rare extension of the 90-day General Assembly session as opponents used delaying tactics in the Senate to prevent a final vote on a 36-cent tobacco tax increase.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening held the hammer of a delayed adjournment over legislators’ heads this week when he issued an executive order to extend the General Assembly session if the chambers don’t pass budget bills before Monday, when the legislature was scheduled to close for the year.
“We don’t have time to untangle the mess the governor has created for us, said Sen. Robert R. Neall, R-Anne Arundel. “If you’re looking for a dire prediction from me, we’re gonna be here long past Monday.”
Glendening’s order is routine each session. It allows the Assembly session to extend another 10 days, solely to deliberate the budget, if necessary. The chambers must decide by midnight Monday whether or not they will need an extension.
“This is the best fiscal year I’ve seen and the worse budgetary year I’ve seen in my life,” said Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D- Baltimore County. “I think we’re gonna be here a long time. We’re jeopardizing the budget being passed and legislation scheduled after this.”
Key committee members of House Appropriations and Senate Budget & Taxation have been appointed to serve on a conference committee to resolve budget differences before Monday.
But some lawmakers on the conference committee said they don’t think they’ll need extra time on the clock.
“The big issue with the Senate is the cigarette tax,” said Delegate John F. Slade III, D-St. Mary’s. “Once the cigarette tax is resolved, we can move forward with the budget. Really, there’s no reason we can’t move ahead with the (rest of) the budget (now).”
The Senate is the biggest problem, Slade said.
“We (delegates) have done our job, in that respect,” he said. “We have passed, on the House side, a balanced state budget within the affordability recommendations.”
The Senate Budget & Taxation Committee voted, 7-6, Wednesday in favor of doubling the current tax on a pack of cigarettes to 72 cents. Glendening has been pushing for a $1 increase – 50-cents this year and next year. The House approved the full $1 hike.
Glendening hinged some state budget priorities to revenues from the tax increase, which would have brought in $150 million the first year. Linking the money to the projects was designed to ensure passage of the tax. But after legislators cut out proposals dependent on the tax, Glendening offered a supplementary budget this week. The new proposal not only depends on the cigarette tax, but funding included for certain legislator’s projects would come from the revenues.
“I’ve never seen such a blatant use of taxpayers’ money as (Glendening’s) little grab bag of gifts,” said Delegate Martha S. Klima, R-Baltimore County. “It’s not his money. It’s your money.”
Klima, also a member of the conference committee, said although there are many sticking points in the budget, like discrepencies over personnel issues and Medicaid, the group hopes to present a final budget to both chambers on Monday.
“Come heck or high water, I believe we will be done and there will be no extension,” Klima said. “People need to get back to their lives, work and other things.”
The differences between House and Senate versions of the budget are large.
The Senate cut $173 million from Glendening’s proposed budget, while the House cut $163 million. Delegates decided to put $54 million worth of budget programs on the back burner, since it’s unknown when these funds will be coming to the state from last year’s national tobacco settlement.
“They (Senate) came in with the common-sense approach, cutting here, cutting there,” Klima said. “There were major differences.”
The last time the session was extended was in 1992 – for budget bill passage only. Without authorization from the governor, the Maryland Constitution states that either body can call for an extension, but they both have to agree to it by a three-fifths vote. This has never been done.
The state constitution also prohibits the Assembly session from extending more than a total of 30 days.