Democratic members of the Maryland Senate caucused Wednesday morning in Annapolis, apparently summoned by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to discuss the prospects for special sessions of the General Assembly this year.
More than half the members of the Senate's majority party got together at 8 a.m. in the James Senate Office Building. Senators said they expect Miller to take soundings on how much support he could count on for plans to raise income taxes to avert hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts. One Senate source said Miller is also expected to try to line up backing for a plan to expand gambling in Maryland by permitting a new casino in Prince George's County while allowing table games at all existing and planned slots-only casinos.
Miller said he does expect a special session to convene sometime in the week of May 14.
The senators were joined at their closed-doors meeting by three top aides to Gov. Martin O'Malley: Budget Secretary T. Eloise Foster, chief of staff Matt Gallagher and chief legislative officer Joseph Bryce.
Some of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus are balking at the idea of reviving the income tax increase plan that died in the legislature when time ran out on the last night of the regular session -- triggering a round of cuts known as the Doomsday Budget.
Sen. John Astle, an Annapolis Democrat, said he would prefer to simply live with those cuts and see whether voters find them more palatable than higher taxes. Astle said the only voices he's heard calling for a special session are public employee unions, teachers and health care advocate Vinnie DeMarco, who had been pushing lawmakers to raise tobacco taxes.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Gov.Martin O'Malley, said the governor is still aiming to call a special session to deal with budget issues the week of May 14. But O'Malley has also said he wants to have an agreement in place between the House and Senate before calling legislators back to Annapolis. O'Malley has also suggested he might call a second special session in summer to deal with proposals to expand gambling -- an issue the governor wants to keep separate from the budget.
Among the matters Senate Democrats are expected to discuss is whether they are willing to come back twice. Some of the more liberal members of the caucus have expressed a willingness to come back to Annapolis for a special session on taxes and other budget matters but are reluctant to reconvene just for the sake of enacting a gambling bill.
The caucus has been scheduled for a day when the governor is holding a bill-signing ceremony, an event that typically brings a large number of lawmakers back to Annapolis. Among the measures expected to be signed are a package of environmental bills including an increase in the "flush" fee, O'Malley's proposed curbs on housing developments using septic systems and a bill requiring local governments to take action to upgrade stormwater systems.