Assembly pursues '93 budget Lawmakers are to re-convene tomorrow, but no consensus in sight.

April 09, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- After a one-day recess, Maryland's lawmakers were to return tomorrow to try to pass a balanced budget.

They began their extraordinary extended session yesterday the way they ended their regular 90-day session at midnight Monday: arguing.

They argued over whether they should keep working, or take a break to cool off and rest up.

They argued over whether they should pass their so-called "doomsday" budget and let the impact of drastic cuts sink in, or try again to pass a tax increase that would make those cuts unnecessary.

Mostly, they argued over how they failed for the first time since the current process was established in 1916 to pass a budget before the regular session ended.

"I just think what we did was a disgrace," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Lawmakers had hoped to be on their way home by now, or back at their other jobs, or off on some long-planned vacation. Instead, they were back in their State House seats, looking like a bunch of kids ordered to stay after school.

There was plenty of talk -- from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who addressed a joint session; from the House and Senate's Democratic leaders; from Republicans; and even from back-benchers of both parties.

They talked about flexibility, about looking at budget and tax issues in some fresh way. But there was little evidence that any positions had changed.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, wasted no time urging his colleagues to "uphold the Senate's position."

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said, "The House did its job," suggesting the budget failed for lack of leadership in the Senate.

Mr. Schaefer, trying to mediate, warned that the consequences of inaction are serious.

He said at least 1,000 state jobs and another 2,000 jobs in local governments would be lost if a budget is passed containing another $250 million in spending reductions -- an option lawmakers refer to as the "doomsday" budget.

He said local governments would be hit particularly hard, potentially losing another $95 million in state aid for schools, police protection, community colleges and other important services.

Medical care for the poor would suffer; private colleges would lose state subsidies and state parks would be closed.

Once the bare-bones budget is passed and the extended session ends, Mr. Schaefer said he wants to call the legislature immediately back into special session. He wants lawmakers to enact a tax package to replace the "doomsday" cuts and pass the state's $350 million capital construction program for next year, which also died when the lawmakers failed to pass an operating budget.

But many lawmakers couldn't figure out why the governor thinks it will be easier to get a tax package now than during the regular session.

As for passing the budget, lawmakers doubted that either house could muster a majority to vote for a "doomsday" measure without ironclad assurances that a substitute package of new tax revenues would be subsequently enacted.

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