427th Maryland General Assembly Now Open: Facing $2 Billion Deficit
Jan. 14, 2010
by Daniel Leaderman
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland General Assembly kicked off its 427th legislative session Wednesday, a term likely to be dominated by the state’s nearly $2 billion budget deficit, as well as legislative efforts to protect citizens from sex offenders.
Lawmakers just need to agree on how to balance the budget, especially with so many reluctant to increase taxes in an election year. In the last year the Board of Public Works has cut more than $1 billion from the operating budget.
“We’re facing our California moment, as are many other states,” said Delegate Luiz R. S. Simmons, D-Montgomery. The legislature will have to “make some very painful choices … we should be very careful about imposing any new taxes.”
Some lawmakers and advocates are calling for a dime-a-drink tax that would help fund public health initiatives. But legislative leaders including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, are opposed to the idea.
Delegate Paul S. Stull, R-Frederick, said new taxes this year would be political suicide.
“There’s too many people out of work, too many foreclosures have taken place … I don’t think you can tax the working man to work your way out of debt,” Stull said.
The solution, Stull said, is to create jobs and to “take a hard look at where we might be able to make cuts that hurt the fewest number of people … that’s going to be very difficult.”
Delegate Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, said he was aware that tax increases would not be a popular topic in the legislature this session, but didn’t see more budget cuts as a viable solution.
“We’ve cut all the fat off of the bone. More than that, we’re cutting into bone,” he said.
“We weren’t elected to do the right thing only in non-election years,” Manno said. “If we wait until 2011, it will get worse.”
The December murder of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell on the Eastern Shore is also likely to be a key issue this session. Thomas J. Leggs Jr., registered as a sex offender in both Maryland and Delaware, was charged Monday with kidnapping Foxwell.
“As the father of an 11-year-old-girl, it enraged me,” Busch said, in his address to the House. “There’s got to be better communication between the states when these predators are out on the streets.”
Delegate Andrew A. Serafini, D-Washington, said Foxwell’s death will affect many issues this session.
“It will be interesting to see how people vote this session considering it is an election year,” Serafini said.