Senate President Mike Miller told county officials from across Maryland on Friday that he wants to expand casino gambling, increase the gas tax and push some of the costs of state pensions onto the counties.
None of these positions from Miller are new, except for another proposal to eliminate the estate tax on family farms. But he said he could pass the gas tax in the Senate and probably an increase in the unpopular flush tax to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
Speaking on the same panel at the Maryland Association of Counties annual meeting, House Speaker Michael Busch took no position on the tax hikes. But he said in an interview that expansion of gambling especially into Prince George’s County, as Miller wants, would be difficult to pass the House.
Senate Republican Leader E.J. Pipkin gave no encouragement that any Republicans would support any tax increases, but continued his theme that Gov. Martin O’Malley was continuing a “war on rural Maryland.”
“Politics is about cuts and revenues,” Miller said. “We’re going to come up with revenues.”
But he conceded, “It’s hard to cobble the votes together to get these things done,” especially with Republicans refusing to vote for the state’s operating and capital budgets, even while they want the state aid provided to their jurisdictions.
“If you want capital projects, you’ve got to vote for the budget,” Miller said.
Busch continued to defend the spending choices to increase aid education, particularly to rural counties. He said Pipkin’s attempt to pit the urban counties against the rural areas was the wrong message.
“I hope it’s not going to become a divisive session,” Busch said. But he did note that none of the 43 Republican delegates in the House voted for the budget last year.
Del. Addie Eckardt, R-Talbot, a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, said it was hard to vote for the capital budget when Republicans are not included in the preliminary decisions behind closed doors.