Senators expecting special session May 14-15

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has asked members of his Democratic caucus to set aside May 14 and 15 for what he hopes will be a two-days-and-out special session to revive a tax increase bill that died the last night of the regular session and avert more than $500 million in cuts to state programs.

Miller put the senators on notice  they can expect to be back in Annapolis those days at a caucus of the chamber's majority Democrats Wednesday morning.

The Senate president emphasized that the expected special session this month would deal with budget issues only -- and not with the matter of casino gambling, which contributed to the turmoil of the last days of the session.

"We're focused on the budget situation right now," Miller said after the caucus.

Miller said he has asked Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, chairman of the Senate's conferees on the budget, to arrange a meeting as soon as possible with his House counterparts to discuss how to reconcile the Senate and House approaches to the budget.

The Senate Democrats -- a majority of whom attended -- 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. Democrats hold 35 of the seats in the 47-member Senate.

This year's 90-day session ended at midnight April 9 after the General Assembly passed a budget, laden with so-called Doomsday cuts that Democrats never intended to take effect. But when two companion bills failed -- one raising income taxes and another shifting some of the costs of teacher pensions to the counties --  the Doomsday provisions were enacted. They will take effect July 1 unless reversed before then.


The big snag on the final night was an impasse between the Senate and the House on an income tax increase, which wasn't broken in a conference committee until early evening. Time ran out before the agreements made that night could be ratified by each chamber.

The dispute arose over the Senate's preference for a broad-based increase, while the House insisted on limiting the impact to individuals making more than $100,000 and couples earning $150,000 or more. Many senators were unhappy with the conference committee deal, which was largely settled on terms favorable to the House.

Late last month, Miller suggested reopening the conference committee negotiations to seek a new compromise, but senators said Wednesday that they do not expect dramatic changes to the deal their negotiators signed April 9.

Sen. James Rosapepe,a Prince George's County Democrat, said the consensus was that the legislature needs to get a budget deal in a way that's "simple, not complex." He said he couldn't see any reason why the Senate would balk at a deal close to what was on the table that night.

"My guess is that there may be some tweaks to it," he said. Rosapeper said Miller appears determined to move past the House-Senate recriminations about what went wrong at the end of the session and  to get a deal done.


"I think everybody's looking for closure," said Sen. Jennie Forehand, a Montgomery County Democrat.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Wednesday that he wasn't aware of the Senate conferees' desire to meet and couldn't comment on possible negotiations. But he said he would meet with Miller and Gov. Martin O'Malley late Wednesday or early Thursday to discuss special session plans.