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O'Malley mentions potential for 2 special sessions

Tuesday - 4/24/2012, 2:51pm  ET

Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday he is considering the possibility of holding two special sessions, one next month to focus on a revenue package to avoid about a half a billion in budget cuts and another in August to address an expansion of gambling in the state.

The governor said he believes both issues deserve a hearing and some resolution. O'Malley also said he believes considering both in the waning hours of the regular 90-day session two weeks ago was too much to handle at once and prompted the budget breakdown.

"If we're able to resolve the budget in May and then come back, say, in early August to resolve the open questions on gaming, that would be enough time for it to be on the ballot in the fall," O'Malley told reporters.

Allowing table games like blackjack or roulette or allowing a new casino in Prince George's County would require approval by voters in a referendum.

O'Malley and leading lawmakers are looking at ways to avoid about $500 million in cuts that were triggered by the unexpected failure to pass an income tax increase during the regular session. The cuts would have a significant impact on education funding, a top O'Malley priority.

The Democratic governor described a morning meeting with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch as cordial. Still, he did not elaborate on how far apart the two are on reaching a consensus on a proposal to raise income taxes that fell apart in the waning hours of the regular 90-day session two weeks ago.

O'Malley said he hoped House and Senate negotiators could get together this week to work out a budget deal.

Miller, D-Calvert, said mid-May was under consideration for a special session. The Senate president supports expanding gambling to include table games and a casino in Prince George's.

Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said he wants to talk to other members of House leadership to explore their thoughts about revisiting the revenue package that was before them earlier this month.

O'Malley noted he is facing a May 23 deadline, when he would need to submit roughly $130 million in cuts to the Board of Public Works to balance the budget, if revenues are not approved in a special session to make up the difference.

"I think everybody agrees that we have to address the budget issues before the governor makes the cuts at the Board of Public Works," Busch said.

During the last days of the legislative session, the House and Senate struggled to reach an accord on how to raise income taxes to help cut an ongoing budget deficit in half. House negotiators did not want taxes to be raised on people who make less than $100,000 a year, but their counterparts in the Senate advocated for spreading tax increases over a broader spectrum of taxpayers to raise more revenue.

They ended up agreeing with the House plan. However, the panel of House and Senate negotiators only reached agreement with less than four hours left in the session.

Some, including Busch, have criticized Miller for being preoccupied with expanding gambling instead of helping to shepherd the budget package through, but Miller has denied that.

Still, Miller has expressed frustration at reluctance to expand gambling.

"It is foolish to deny Maryland locations the ability to offer table games just like our neighboring states and to refuse to permit a sixth site which we know to be the best location on the East Coast with most of the estimated revenues coming from out-of-state visitors," Miller wrote in an April 20 letter to O'Malley and Busch.

The Senate president also has noted that Senate negotiators made a variety of concessions to the House during budget negotiations. In the letter, Miller suggested modifying the income tax plan to raising taxes on single filers who have an adjusted gross income of $75,000 and joint filers who have income of $125,000.

"I believe this was a compromise offered by members of the Senate earlier in the day on Sine Die and view this as a significant offer of compromise to the House position," Miller wrote, referring to the last day of the session on April 9.

O'Malley said Tuesday be believes lawmakers should start with the agreement they had reached.

"I think we were very close to having a budget agreement that most people could have lived with," O'Malley said. "It was the product of compromise. It didn't make anyone entirely happy, but I think that's a very, very good starting point, and if there's other things that we need to do _ some further cuts or some deferral of some issues, that there are simply not the dollars to fund in this budget _ then we'll have to do that."


Associated Press Writers Sarah Breitenbach and Alex Dominguez in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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