Assembly clunks to new session Required budget accord likely to have deep cuts.

April 07, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau Laura Lippman, C. Fraser Smith, Marina Sarris and David Conn of the Annapolis Bureau, and Carol L. Bowers of the Harford County Bureau, contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- Unable to agree on a budget during its allotted 90 days, the General Assembly was to begin trying again today to do so in an unprecedented extended session.

Lawmakers are likely to come up with a "doomsday" spending plan that will cut deeply into schools, medical care for the poor, local government, state parks and other programs.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer was to address the joint House and Senate to ask the lawmakers to come back for yet another special session to pass budget-balancing tax increases to avert the worst cuts, and a $350 million capital spending plan for 1993.

Paralyzed over taxes, lawmakers ended the regular 90-day session at midnight last night without a budget agreement, forcing the legislature into its first extended session since the current process was set up in 1916.

During the extended session, the legislature is prohibited from considering anything but the budget. Without new taxes, that budget will have to be balanced with what has been called a doomsday list of $250 million in cuts.

The doomsday list could be revised in the extended session, however. And, if a subsequent agreement can be reached on taxes, that list could be partly or completely replaced with new revenues.

Asked if he feared the legislature's failure to enact a budget could jeopardize the state's triple-A bond rating, Mr. Schaefer replied: "Today, no. I think we're still all right. . . . [But] if we stay at doomsday, I have some doubts."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said, "We'll meet with the governor [today] and hopefully in two days, we'll do what we should have been able to do in 90 days."

But House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said if the Senate had done what the House did -- pass a "responsible and balanced budget" -- the session would be over.

And he predicted that when the assembly reconvenes, "This house will do the responsible thing. We will do it. And we'll have to convince the Senate to do the right thing, too."

The session's last gasp actually came at 9:30 p.m., when the filibuster-threatened Senate voted 25-22 to kill a House proposal that would have raised $200 million in taxes to balance the budget, nearly $50 million more to pay for local aid programs (primarily for the city and Prince George's and Montgomery counties) and a nickel-a-gallon gasoline tax yp restartthe state's stalled road construction program.

The vote shifted the pressure to the House, which had possession of three Senate bills that could have served almost the same purposes.

"I think it's pretty clear that this bill is not going to pass and, if there's going to be a budget tonight, it will have to come from across the hall," said Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, after the vote.

But the House and Senate bills differed fundamentally in the way the new taxes would be raised. The House favors increases in income and corporate taxes. The Senate favors expansion of the sales tax. Neither side would give in.

After today's session, the two houses were expected to recess for a day to cool off. They plan to reconvene Thursday to adopt the doomsday budget, and then return again next Monday to begin work on a new tax and capital construction plan.

Besides cutting aid to schools, agencies and the poor, the doomsday budget would have slam-dunked local governments by slashing another $95 million in state aid on top of $250 million in reductions already approved.

"It is starting to turn into a bittersweet day for Baltimore," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who went from the Orioles' Opening Day victory to the legislature's closing night defeat.

"Everyone felt so euphoric this afternoon, and now we're looking a budget that could do a lot of harm for a lot of years," he said.

This morning, Howard County Executive Charles Ecker called the doomsday spending plan "devastating for the cities and counties."

"I had expected them to pass a responsible budget," he said. "I'm just disappointed it didn't happen."

Neither Baltimore County executive Roger Hayden nor Anne Arundel County executive Robert Neall was available to express an opinion today.

Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a Montgomery County Democrat and speaker pro-tem of the House, said things are not as bad as they may seem.

"We are a long way from doomsday," she said. "The sky is not falling."

Local governments were put squarely in jeopardy by last night's actions.

With the tax bill killed, it means Baltimore and the 23 counties will lose $88.5 million in state aid to help offset the state's fiscal 1992 budget deficit rather than a $50 million hit if the tax bill had passed.

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said her county had been counting on the legislature to provide $1 million for police and $6 million for education that would be missing in a doomsday scenario.

"Two of our most vital services are depending on the action of the state legislators," Ms. Rehrmann said yesterday. "We're at their mercy."

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