Md. Budget Crisis: In Special Session, Not All Budget Fixes Created Equal - Southern Maryland Headline News

Md. Budget Crisis: In Special Session, Not All Budget Fixes Created Equal

By ANDY ZIEMINSKI, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS (October 30, 2007) - As legislators converged on Annapolis yesterday to begin wrangling over the state's $1.7 billion budget deficit, Delegate Tawanna Gaines wanted them to remember the three-wheeled motorcycle.

Gaines, D-Prince George's, plans to submit a bill in the special legislative session that would change the state's definition of a motorcycle, allowing the 12 to 15 owners of three-wheeled motorcycles in the state to register them with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, she said.

It is one of scores of bills that might be introduced in the session that is supposed to focus on the budget: The Department of Legislative Services was drafting at least 80 bills as of Wednesday for possible consideration in the special session.

While the Maryland Constitution lets lawmakers submit bills on any subject they want during a special session, House and Senate leaders are urging legislators to stay focused on Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposals for solving the deficit by raising some taxes and amending others.

"The hope is to handle the special session as expeditiously as possible," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert.

Special sessions can last as long as 30 days, meaning the session starting Monday could run through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Miller said bills unrelated to the budget will probably stay in committees without getting as far as a floor vote "unless there's a clear consensus that it's an immediate problem that needs to be remedied."

In the last special session—a June 2006 meeting to address utility rates—leadership was able to keep a lid on things. There were 49 bills drafted for that session and 25 introduced, but only one was enacted.

But Gaines is not the only lawmaker who plans to introduce legislation not directly related to O'Malley's proposals, which include raising the sales tax and tobacco tax.

Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, said she is going to offer a bill to raise taxes on alcohol sales, which she estimated could generate an extra $40 million in revenue for the state. She said a similar bill has been introduced several times in recent years, but "it gets killed in committee."

"What I'm hoping is that because of the special session, and we're looking for a broad base of revenue, the bill will get a vote, not only in the committees, but also on the floor," Gutierrez said.

With legislators facing a more complex issue in this session, bills that do not address the deficit and the governor's proposals "shouldn't make it," said Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley, R-Frederick.

"They should die, because the special session should be to take care of the budget," he said. "I don't think we need to hold a special session, but since we are, it should be on the matter at hand."

But Gaines is confident her motorcycle bill will pass because "the facts are very straightforward."

The MVA let the three-wheeled motorcycle owners register their vehicles before officials realized state law does not recognize them as motorcycles, Gaines said. The MVA withdrew the registrations, preventing the owners from legally driving their vehicles.

And she thinks her motorcycle bill is part of the "matter at hand."

"This bill technically has to do with the budget, because you have to pay taxes on a brand new bike," she said.

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