ANNAPOLIS -- Legislators with weak stomachs for "revenue enhancements" will assemble today looking for a quasi-miracle -- a way to balance the distressed state budget without raising taxes.
An ad hoc group of lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, will consider state spending, government efficiency and possible fee increases.
Providing advice will be Thomas W. Schmidt, the former budget secretary to three Democratic governors. Donald P. Hutchinson, the head of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, will serve as moderator.
Perhaps the most significant thing about the meeting is that it is taking place at all. In past years, when revenues were fat, the budget sailed through the legislature with little comment from rank-and-file lawmakers.
This year, legislators of all stripes are making suggestions. While Republicans organized today's meeting, many Democrats are expected to make an appearance.
"This is really to be viewed as a first step toward building a consensus," said Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County.
That's because there's no consensus on what to do about the state's lingering budget deficit. Of course, there's not even a consensus on that assessment.
"I'm hearing the votes aren't there for significant tax increases," said Del. John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel. But other head counters say tax advocates will eventually get the votes they need.
Annapolis is divided into three camps -- those who are already committed to significant tax increases, those who have vowed to avoid all taxes, and those who are willing to raise taxes -- but only after being convinced that state spending is under control.
"In a fairly large middle, you have people say, 'Show me,' " said House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole. Mr. Poole, D-Washington, said he would attend today's brainstorming session even though he has said he will vote for some tax increases once the budget has been adequately trimmed. Many of those delegates who are reluctantly willing to raise taxes are waiting for a push from House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent.
"Once you have a clear focus from the speaker on where we're going, a lot of people will jump on the train," said Del. Henry R. Hergenroeder, D-Baltimore.