Gov. Martin O'Malley's suggestion that the General Assembly hold two special sessions this year has earned him derision from Republicans but the support of at least one group -- the state NAACP.
The civil rights group on Thursday endorsed the governor's idea of holdiing one session in May to raise taxes and take other steps to avert deep cuts to popular programs and another in latte summer to consider the thorny question of expanded gambling in Maryland. The proposal is now being considered by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V.Mike Miller.
O'Malley contends that holding separate sessions could avoid a repeat of the final days of the regular session, when many observers though the casino issue became hopelessly tangled with budget issues. Miller and Busch -- though not Miller -- have expressed the view that the gambling issue helped lead to the disputes that prevented the House and Senate from passing key budget-related bills on the night the session ended April 9.
That failure led to the adoption-by-default of the so-called Doomsday Budget, with cuts of more than $500 milllion that could have been averted if the Assembly had passed bills raising income taxes and shifting some oif the burden of teacher pension coosts to the counties.
It is those Doomsday cuts the NAACP wants to avoid by bringing lawmakers back for a special session. Among the programs bearing the brunt of the cuts would be K-12 schools, higher education and health. Also hard-hit would be law enforcement grants that largely benefit Baltimore city and Prince George's County -- the state's two African-American majority jurisdictions.
"Communities now face more than $500 million in cuts to the very things that make them great," the NAACP statement said. "These cuts to our schools will mean larger class sizes and reduced student programs services. These well-named “doomsday” cuts will also affect law enforcement, community and social service providers; meaning hundreds, if not thousands, of layoffs, and will make our streets and neighborhoods less safe. These cuts will affect all Marylanders, including the wealthy and affluent."
The organization also accepted O'Malley's argument that it would be bettero consider the gambling issue separately from budget issues. Such a division would allow a "clearer debate" on the merits of expanding gambling. Miller, among others, wants to allow a sixth Maryland site at National Harbor in Prince George's County and table games at all Maryland casinos, which now permit slots only.