• Sen. Pipkin wants spending kept at current level;
• Sen. Colburn seeks to allow bingo fundraisers in Dorchester
ANNAPOLIS The General Assembly returns to Annapolis Monday, and despite the large Democratic majority in both houses, Mid-Shore Republican legislators won't be taking a passive approach to the proceedings.
The Democratic-controlled assemblage, which holds a 2-to-1 majority in both the Senate and the House of Delegates, is expected to pass an income tax increase on people making more than $100,000 a year during the special session, as well as legislation passing down nearly half the cost of teacher pensions to county governments.
Disagreements between Senate and House leaders at the end of the regular session in April caused the need for the special session, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley.
O'Malley issued an executive order on Wednesday, May 9, convening the General Assembly. According to his order, "if the General Assembly does not act soon, the Board of Public Works on May 23, 2012, will be presented with over $165 million in budget reductions 50 million in agency reductions; $30 million from 500 eliminated positions; $15 million in increased health care costs to employees; and an additional $71 million in cuts just to balance the FY2013 Budget."
The anticipated income tax hikes will target individuals making more than $100,000 and households making more than $150,000, and would generate approximately $247 million in revenue.
According to O'Malley, the increases will affect 16 percent of residents.
State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36-Upper Shore, plans to introduce legislation during the special session to keep state spending at the current level, eliminating the need for passage of any tax increase.
In a news release, Pipkin said the budget passed during the regular session is $700 million higher than last year's budget. "A multi-billion dollar budget which is $700 million more than last year cannot be called a 'doomsday budget,'" he said.
According to Pipkin, his proposed legislation will do four things: maintain spending at current levels, eliminate the need for a tax increase, halt the shift of the teachers' pensions to counties, and eliminates "Governor O'Malley's long-term structural budget deficit of $1.1 billion."
"This proposal is not a gimmick or a bookkeeping sleight of hand. Rather, it is an appropriate response to stop the vicious cycle of 'tax and spend,'" said Pipkin.
Pipkin said O'Malley used a special session in 2007 to raise taxes and fees, including a sales tax increase from 5 cents to 6 cents, a corporate income tax increase from 7 percent to 8.5 percent and an increase in motor vehicle title registration fees from $23 to $50.
During the 2011 General Assembly session, according to Pipkin, O'Malley pushed for and obtained approval on legislation to double fees on vehicle titling, vanity plates, birth certificates and land recording. The state's alcohol tax was increased 50 percent.
In a letter co-written by Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-29C-Calvert, House Minority Leader, and Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-37B-Talbot, House Minority Whip, published last week: "In 1985, the state's annual operating budget was $6.9 billion. In 2012 it stood at $34.7 billion, an average increase of 5 percent each year. After years of significant tax and fee increases, continuous raiding of dedicated funds, increasing the fiscal burdens of local governments, and excessive borrowing, we still can't seem to pay the state's bills. … The legislature should take a breather, live with the budget just passed in April, and begin the 2013 session with a new sense of purpose in January. The next session of the General Assembly should be dedicated to truly bringing spending under control."
Despite what seems like an inevitable outcome, all the Mid-Shore legislators feel it's important to attend the special session.
According to Del. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R-36-Queen Anne's, the Republican Caucus intends on fighting the tax increases and holding those supporting the tax increases accountable.
"No way would we walk off the floor," said Hershey responding to suggestions of a boycott. "We will be there representing those that elected us to fight against uncontrolled spending and higher taxes."
State Sen. Richard Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore, said he would consider it "malfeasance in office" if he didn't attend the special session. He said a fairer way to balance the budget would be to cut each state department by 10 percent across the board.
"As far as having only 12 Republicans out of 47 [senators], it's not going to be any different from the regular session. We're still outnumbered and the rural areas are vastly outnumbered," he said. "I've said this to some of my colleagues: we've been successful in the past, and who's to say we're not going to be successful passing an amendment. … If we don't show up we're not going to get an amendment passed."
Colburn plans to reintroduce legislation during the special session allowing fire departments to hold bingo fundraisers in Dorchester County on Sunday. He said it died in the House Ways and Means Committee during the regular session due to petty politics over gambling issues. "Fire companies more than ever need to raise money … it shows you that even adults don't always mature," he said.
Hershey and Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36-Cecil, both say the legislature should act to override a recent court ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous dogs.
"Most animal groups and owners argue that you can not have breed specific definitions regarding propensity for being declared inherently dangerous," said Smigiel. "The question is whether an irresponsible human teaches the dog, any breed, Doberman, Rottweiler, pit bull, German Sheppard, to be aggressive. Maryland law has specific criteria for determining what a dangerous dog is and the court just changed that law.
"Also, as a result of the ruling, landlords are going to be responsible for allowing people to rent property with these dogs. … You also have the problem of determining whether a dog is 51 percent or 5 percent pit bull, what mix of dogs? The court created a mess that many are having to deal with and it is just serendipity that the special session allows us the opportunity to fix this situation before it is too late."
Del. Jacobs, R-36-Kent, said he has heard that only the revenue bills will be up for debate during the special session.
"It's only the unfinished pieces" from the 2013 budget, he said, "nothing from the legislature." Anyone could file a bill, but it would most likely be sent to committee and sit there, he said.
Hershey echoed Jacob's comments.
"The governor has called back the entire General Assembly with the sole purpose of raising taxes," said Hershey. "Although the General Assembly did pass a budget when the 2012 session concluded in April, it just wasn't the budget that the governor wanted. Calling back the entire General Assembly with the sole purpose of raising taxes to compensate for government overspending just proves the arrogance of the governor and the super-majority party."