Getting it right

October 05, 2007

Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan for a special legislative session to address Maryland's projected $1.7 billion budget deficit suffered a major blow with the decision by Senate Republicans not to support a slots bill - at least not before the regular session next January.

That's welcome news.

As much as a special session offers the most expedient path for Mr. O'Malley's $2 billion deficit reduction package - and prolonging these decisions puts the state budget potentially $500 million deeper in the hole - it's still the wrong choice. The General Assembly has some difficult votes to make, particularly in regard to potential tax increases and expanded gambling, but members need a full range of alternatives to consider and adequate time to study and debate them.

Those possibilities should include spending cuts, and that's an unknowable option until the governor's budget is presented in January. Meanwhile, a special session would similarly limit the public's opportunity to be informed about, and to comment on, the various choices. This is too important an issue for public involvement to be so compromised.

The reasoning of the Republican senators may be convoluted even by State House standards - they're opposing an alternative to taxes as a way to oppose taxes - but the results are still beneficial. No doubt House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the state's leading critic of slots, also appreciates the unexpected endorsement.

Make no mistake, we would still urge the legislature to approve a revenue package that can remedy the deficit, upgrade Maryland's roads and transit systems, improve health care, address inequities in the tax code and avoid draconian cuts to vital government programs.

But the process by which that legislation is adopted is important, too. It needs to be deliberative and open, not a backroom deal cut in the wee hours after a whirlwind week in Annapolis.

That may prove inconvenient to the governor, but it's still the right thing to do.

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