A mix of experienced and first-term legislators represented Potomac in Annapolis this year. As predicted, the budget was the major issue of the term, spawning battles over slot machines and proposed tax increases.
Although a balanced budget, mandated by law, was passed, the general assembly still set itself up for a projected $700 million deficit next year. It is likely that Marylanders have not heard the last of fiscal woes, taxes or slot machines.
ONE OF THE issues in this session wasn’t really political at all. About one-third of the legislature was new this year, in addition to a new speaker of the House, and governor.
“It cannot be stated too much how new everyone was,” said Del. Jean Cryor (R-15), in her third four-year term. Cryor was the only incumbent from District 15 this year.
One advantage that veterans have is understanding how the system works and how powerful the committees are, Cryor said.
Potomac’s new delegates agreed. “As a newcomer, it takes a little while to get a sense of the landscape,” said Del. Brian Feldman (D-15). “Most of the hard work is done in committee.”
“This certainly was a reorganizing year,” said Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-15) However, with the large number of newcomers, Dumais though that it was probably an opportune time to be a first-termer. “What a wonderful, challenging time to begin,” Dumais said.
THE SESSION was dominated by talk of slot machines, a topic which has not been resolved.
Cryor sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, so she was the only delegate representing Potomac to weigh in on the issue (it came before the Senate as well). Cryor voted in favor of slot machines, even though she doesn’t like them.
“The money is going to go out of the Maryland pocketbook — do you want it going back into Maryland schools?” she said, citing the trips that citizens take to play slots in other states. The slot machine revenue would have generated money for education.
Potomac’s other delegates were united in the belief that the state simply was not ready for slot machines.
“I think that is was a very poorly thought-out proposal,” said Del. William Bronrott (D-16). “The whole idea was predicated on Marylanders losing $1 million a day for this to work,” he said.
It was also agreed that the state would be better served by taking time to study the proposal more fully.
“We should examine what impact there will be on our counties,” Feldman said.
“I want to see what the study determines,” Dumais said. “I’m smart enough to, at least, listen. [But] I still tend to lean against it.”
THE SLOT PROPOSAL, however, was really peripheral to the larger budget issue. “We balanced the budget without money coming from slots,” Bronrott said.
In order to balance the budget, a revenue package, including a tax increase, passed the General Assembly. Gov. Ehrlich (R) has threatened to veto the proposal and call the legislature back for a special session.
Cryor, however stated she would be “very surprised” to see a special session. “If there’s a special session, it won’t be a good sign,” she said. Cryor believes that a session would only be called if the projected deficit ballooned.
If the governor does veto the revenue package, it will likely mean budget cuts. Dumais wonders if it should be the governor or the assembly who decides how the state should meet its financial requirements. “I’m not so sure it should be the governor,” Dumais said.
Others wonder about possible motivation for returning the assembly to session.
“We made some difficult choices,” said Feldman. “For him to turn around and call us back into session is curious, at best.”