By Len Lazarick
As one delegate put it, it was déjà vu all over again as the House of Delegates on Tuesday rejected amendments to a revised spending plan and $300 million in tax hikes that had often been proposed in the regular 90-day session.
In three and half hours of often lackluster debate, seven mostly Republican amendments to the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act went down to defeat. Lawmakers rejected attempts to reduce the shift of teacher pension costs to the school systems or to force the state to use the flush tax exclusively for reducing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.
In the State and Local Revenue and Financing Act, the delegates voted down attempts to reduce or eliminate income tax hikes of 5% to 15% on people making more than $100,000 a year. A couple of Montgomery County delegates sought to substitute an increase in the sales tax from 6% to 7% for the income tax hike, which will have a quarter of Montgomery’s high-earning taxpayers paying 40% of all the new revenues. But the effort fizzled after 10 minutes of discussion without even a recorded vote.
“I know we’re probably not in a mood to do this,” said Del. Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery, who offered the sales tax increase.
Mood to finish quickly and get out of town
The delegates seemed mostly in a mood to finish the work of the special session and get out of Annapolis, as they will likely do after final votes this morning. Following Tuesday’s session, House Speaker Michael Busch pointed out that almost all the issues had been thrashed out in the regular session, which ended without action in the House on the two bills substantially similar to those they debated Tuesday.
Streaming back into the afternoon session, delegates walked through a gauntlet of hundreds of pit bull owners demanding action to overturn a court decision that declared their pet dogs “inherently dangerous.” But legislative leaders were adamant that the session would deal only with the unfinished budget measures, and nothing else.
Senate passes measures
Shortly after noon Tuesday, the Maryland Senate across the hall had passed a final budget and more than $300 million in tax hikes.
The debate lasted only an hour and half, with remarks by each Republican opponent countered by a different Democratic supporter of the measure.
Senate Republican Leader E.J. Pipkin dominated the opposition, speaking at least a dozen times with nearly the same message. Despite the “marketing” that the budget was being cut, Pipkin said, overall spending was actually going up $700 million and the tax hikes were unnecessary.
The final vote on the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act was 33-13, with two Democrats — Sen. Roy Dyson of St. Mary’s and Brian Frosh of Montgomery — joining 11 Republicans in voting against the plan, which makes some reductions in spending formulas and shifts half of teacher pension costs to county governments. Republican Sen. George Edwards of Garrett voted for the bill.
The final vote on the State and Local Revenue and Financing Act was 27-19. Seven Democrats joined all dozen Republicans opposing the tax hikes. The seven Democrats were: Dyson; John Astle, Anne Arundel; James Mathias, Lower Shore; Anthony Muse, Prince George’s; and Jim Brochin, Norman Stone and Bobby Zirkin, all of Baltimore County.
A video shot throughout the day on Monday shows the demonstrators opposed to the tax hikes and spending increases, and a rally by public employee unions supporting the bills.
The video was produced by Emaun Kashfipour.