ANNAPOLIS – The General Assembly will approve tax increases at its own peril, warned Gov. Robert Ehrlich Friday, who threatened a veto of the package that could trigger a quick return for lawmakers.
Ehrlich vowed Thursday to veto the taxes approved by a committee of House and Senate leaders.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Friday his chamber has the votes to override a veto, but he nevertheless sent a delegation asking Ehrlich to reconsider.
The Assembly is due to adjourn Monday. A veto of all or part of the budget package could mean lawmakers would have to return for a special session to resolve differences.
The Ehrlich administration said House and Senate budget masters knew they were treading on veto territory when they put their revenue package together containing a three-year, .7 percent corporate tax increase with a 2 percent tax on health maintenance organizations and $45 million in “loophole” closings to raise about $140 million.
Ehrlich blasted the Legislature’s “spend and tax” policies and demanded the increased revenues be replaced with cuts.
Miller dismissed Ehrlich’s veto threats as “off-the-cuff remarks,” and said he hoped there was room in the governor’s position for negotiation.
He urged the governor to back off “for the people,” and brought a convoy of pro-slots senators to ask Ehrlich not to veto the taxes necessary for balancing the budget.
“If the message from the Legislature continues to be `We’ll spend and tax,’ it’s not going to be received,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. “The governor has been very clear these taxes would be met with a veto . . . The ball’s in their court to make the tough cuts.”
“We’ve made the tough cuts,” countered House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel. Miller echoed the statement saying, “We don’t need more hurting. Cuts hurt.”
Vetoing the revenue package and bringing the lawmakers back to Annapolis is “Capitol Hill politics and that’s not what Maryland wants,” Miller said, alluding to Ehrlich’s previous job as congressman. “We’ll work with him.”
Miller also took time to blast legislators who didn’t vote for slots, labeling “weak” and “unable to make the tough votes.”
“(Ehrlich) has seen how hard we worked for his top priority (slots),” said Senate Budget and Tax Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, who said he believed the governor would let the taxes stand.
Meanwhile, Ehrlich opened nearly every avenue for discussion on a last- minute slots package but the General Assembly’s leaders haven’t taken the offer.
Venues, cash distribution and the number of machines were all negotiable, Ehrlich Communications Director Paul Schurick said Friday about a deal he believed “could be done in the next three days.” But even he gave slots resurrection “a very slim chance.” “I was never one to pronounce slots dead,” said Obie Patterson, D-Prince George’s, chairman of the House Legislative Black Caucus who voted against slots.
On Friday, Patterson said he was open to negotiations on all those issues, but exclaimed, “Jesus! We’re supposed to do all that in the next three days!”
Miller said a last minute revival wasn’t coming from his chamber. Across the hall, Busch said, “Why can’t we just wait a year?”