By KATE PRAHLAD, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Maryland Senate Republicans said Wednesday they will not support a slot-machines bill if it comes up in a special session, saying such a session aims to push through an "unnecessary" and "massive tax increase" on Marylanders.
Lawmakers need time to fully analyze the extent of Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposals, said Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley, something that is not provided in a special session.
"We want to get the package in front of us and deal with it in a regular session," said Brinkley, a Carroll County Republican, standing outside the State House. "There's enough time to wait."
The senators' announcement comes one day after House Republicans said they would not support a slots bill until O'Malley puts state spending in check.
The GOP holds only 37 of the 141 seats in the House and 14 of the 47 Senate seats, but Republicans said they were expecting support from conservative Democrats would strengthen their opposition to slots.
Spokesmen for the governor did not return phone calls seeking comment on the opposition Wednesday.
Slots are just one element of O'Malley's plan to deal with the state's $1.7 billion budget shortfall.
At several appearances to roll out his tax and slots plan last week, the governor said he will call for a special session in early November at the latest. He has said that the deficit could become $2.2 billion by January if a special session is not held.
Senate Republicans said they felt that O'Malley did not include them in discussions about fixing the budget and "took for granted" a supportive vote on legalizing slots.
"We don't want to vote on huge figures without knowing what next year's budget will be," said Senate Minority Whip Allan Kittleman, R-Carroll. "We want to see it all in one comprehensive package."
Brinkley told reporters he met with both O'Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, who supports a special session and slots, to let them know of the caucus decision.
"It's been all one-caucus meetings, with the other shut out, and we don't want to put our stamp on a backroom deal," said Sen. Edward J. Pipkin, R-Caroline. "They're treating this as a fait accompli, but we're taking our slots vote off the table."
Both lawmakers and the public need more time to let the full impact of the "massive" tax increases sink in, said House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, R-Calvert.
"More and more people from both parties are becomingly increasingly restless, and very concerned with the idea of a special session," he said. "Even some of my Democrat colleagues are privately wondering."
Besides legalizing slot machine gambling, O'Malley's proposal advocates raising the sales and corporate income taxes, while restructuring the state income tax to assess wealthier Marylanders at a higher rate. He is also calling for an increase in the cigarette tax, to $2 a pack, and a higher car titling tax.
O'Donnell said House Republicans had put both a slots proposal and a spending restraint plan on the table, which would have required no new taxes while letting the budget have a "healthy" 3.5 percent growth rate.
They have a different message for O'Malley:
"We're not just saying we aren't going to vote for it," O'Donnell said. "We're also saying, 'We had a plan and you rejected it.'"
Under the Republicans plan, slots would have generated revenue much sooner than under O'Malley's plans.
"His is a slots giveaway," O'Donnell said. "There would be no significant money in the state's coffer for two years."
Slots can and should be part of a revenue package, but Republicans will take no part in forcing taxes on Marylanders, Brinkley said.
Kittleman and Pipkin questioned the governor's push for a special session.
"He took a pass in the last session," Kittleman said. "We waited 10 months for him to take action."
"Now, all of a sudden, we've got to do it right away," Pipkin said. "It just adds to the backroom aspect."