ANNAPOLIS – State lawmakers may go home on time this session, but Gov. Robert Ehrlich is indicating it won’t be long before they’re back in Annapolis for a special session.
The General Assembly is scheduled to finish its 90-day session Monday but Ehrlich said a special session to address the budget and taxes is likely in lawmakers’ future.
“It’s certainly a possibility, a very good possibility,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell.
Budget battles between Ehrlich and legislative leaders led many to expect an extended session, but lawmakers changed their tunes after the governor’s slot-machine legalization bill was killed Wednesday.
“I’ll be teeing it up Tuesday,” said House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, said he’s not hanging around, even if the governor vetoes the tax hikes lawmakers are using to close the state’s budget gap.
“I don’t want to stay for overtime . . . not for anything, not for anybody,” said Miller, who added that he has the votes in the Senate to overturn a veto.
“He’s a Republican,” Miller said about Ehrlich. “People say things at the spur of the moment.”
The governor may call a special session — for whatever reason he likes — to convene for up to 30 days, under the state Constitution, said Robert Zarnoch, counsel to the General Assembly.
But there’s still a possibility that the Assembly may be forced into an extended session, which is different from a special session. If the Legislature fails to pass a balanced budget by Monday it automatically kicks into overtime to deal only with the budget, under a constitutional amendment passed in 1916.
During a special session, the General Assembly may take up other bills, but it is typically only used to address single topics, Zarnoch said.
A special session is somewhat cheaper than an extended session, which could cost about $45,000 daily, said Legislative Services Executive Director Karl Aro. By working a skeleton crew of bill analysts, because the budget is the only agenda item, and House and Senate staff, however, the cost can be halved to about $25,000 daily, he said.
With a special session, legislators and staff do not have to attend every day, trimming staff and per diem costs, said Aro.
Ehrlich sent a letter to the General Assembly last Monday declaring an extended session if the Legislature does not pass a balanced budget by Monday.
The Legislature has been forced into extended session once, in 1992, and for similar budget problems, Aro said.
Then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer declared an extended session, which lasted one week, and immediately declared a special session at the end of the week, to consider additional budget measures.
Most lawmakers have jobs to return to after their legislative duties, and General Assembly leaders are working all weekend to ensure Monday is the last day.
Both the Senate and House will hold sessions today. – 30 – CNS-4-4-03