2012 will be remembered for its running battles over taxes and gambling. The drama was highlighted by the April 9th, Sine Die (last day), collapse of the state budget, when the legislature ended its regular session WITHOUT passing a finished Maryland state budget that included a number of new taxes. Each chamber passed a version of the bill, but the conference committee failed to agree on a compromise on taxes before the midnight end of the session.
With the defeat of the new taxes, a streamline budget went into effect with $500 million less in spending. The resulting plan was quickly dubbed by the democrats as the “Doomsday Budget”, but was in many ways a better budget for most of Maryland and Anne Arundel County, see my May post.
Also democrat leadership saw the regular session as a failure because it failed to pass an expanded gambling bill; therefore, the General Assembly reconvened to hold not one, but two special sessions so the General Assembly could finish work on both the budget and a plan to allow table games and a sixth casino in the state, both of which were hard fought and controversial.
For the first session, the legislature reconvened in a three-day special session in May and increased taxes before the July 1st start of the new fiscal year. The final plan included a hike in income taxes and a controversial shift of teacher pension costs, $136.6 million the first year, from the state to the counties. County leaders argued that their jurisdictions were being sent the bill for poor state management.
The second session occurred in August, where the General Assembly agreed to expand gambling not only by adding table games, but by adding a sixth authorized location in Prince George’s County. To Make the additional location acceptable to the exisiting casinos, the legislature agreed to substantially reduce the state taxes collected on gambling undercutting any advantage claimed for education.
The state consitution requires changes in gambling to be approved by the voters and so the battle for gambling continued into the general election in November. State voters were asked to approve the changes and it prompted a fierce $100 million campaign, the most visible of the year, between opposite sides; still the expansion was approved.
Also in 2012, the governor stepped up his attack on the rural communities by greatly limiting the use of septic systems and establishing “growth tiers” to regulate development. The plan was vigorously opposed by lawmakers from the state’s rural counties who saw it as a blow to the authority of local governments to decide local matters.
Initiatives that stalled in 2012 such as offshore wind power and transportation funding (gas tax), are likely to be re-introduced in the 2013 session, and Marylanders can also expect a major debate over gun control proposals in the wake of the mass shooting this month in Connecticut.