Fiscal cliff looms over governor's talk with Busch, Miller

The prospect that the federal government could go over the so-called "fiscal cliff" is hanging over many of the decisions that must be made on Maryland's tax and spending plans, the leaders of the General Assembly said after meeting Thursday with Gov. Martin O'Malley.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller conferred for almost an hour with O'Malley in the governor's office in what is likely to be one of several  meetings before the General Assembly convenes for its 2013 session Jan. 9.

"We had a very good conversation. I think it is good for the governor to call both presiding officers in," said Busch, an Annapolis Democrat. "We're all very concerned with what's taking place in Washington, D.C."

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, said the three leaders discussed their respective legislative agendas. "It was a wide-ranging conversation on a variety of issues," she said.

Both Assembly officers expressed concern about the sequestration of federal funds that could automatically take place Jan. 1 if President Obama and congressional leaders can't come to an agreement on spending and taxes.

If the automatic cuts go into effect and everybody's taxes go up, Busch said, "it's going to have a tremendous effect on the state of Maryland."

Miller and Busch said that among the topics discussed were transportation funding, school construction, the governor's wind energy initiative, implementation of health care reform, the  budget and repeal of the death penalty. The Senate president said the speaker suggested, and he agreed, that any decision on whether to seek a rise in the gas tax should be put off until the federal issues are resolved.

"We could lose 50,000 jobs next year," said Miller, a Calvert County Democrat.

Guillory said she was not sure whether there had been a specific consensus to defer decision-making but noted the governor has until late January to submit his budget.

"We still have time to figure out what the impact will be because there's still movement at the federal level," she said.

Though the national NAACP has promised a major effort at death penalty repeal next year, Busch said the House is unlikely to take up the issue unless the Senate moves first. O'Malley mounted a repeal effort in 2009 that resulted in a compromise that left capital punishment on the books but required a higher standard of proof for it to be applied.

Miller indicated the next move is up to O'Malley.

"What we're going to do is wait and see what the governor's [legislative] package looks like,"  Miller said.

One issue that apparently isn't high on any of the leaders' lists is a suggestion by health care advocate Vincent DeMarco that Maryland raise its tobacco tax by another $1. Busch said that initiative isn't on the agenda of the governor or either presiding officer but would probably come up in the form of ordinary legislation.

One topic that apparently didn't get much discussion was expanded casino gambling, which was the subject of prolonged and often contentious negotiations among the three for much of this year. But the voters' decision last month to approve a referendum question allowing casino expansion has apparently resolved that matter for now.

"I don't think that was one of the issues that came up," Guillory said.


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