Three Neros

Right now Governor O’Malley and Senate President Mike Miller are pushing for a special legislative session this autumn to address the “structrual deficit”, i.e. the propensity of a rather gluttonous and rapacious state government to spend way beyond its means, by taxing the bejeezus out of us. House Speaker Mike Busch is less than enthusiastic because in his heart of hearts he knows he has to give ground in his (in)famous and visceral opposition to slots.

According to the Washington Post, Busch is underwhelmed by the idea:

“I don’t think that a special session is a good idea, but if the governor calls one, we’ll be prepared,” Busch said. “We’re basically preparing for every possible scenario. . . . We obviously will have a scenario without gaming. . . . Does that mean we’re not going to discuss slots? No, of course we are.”

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What is going on here is as old as politics. Eventually Governor O’Malley is going to have to make some pretty unpopular recommendations for reducing the BMI of state government. It will not be Weight Watchers, it will have to be akin to stomach stapling. He and Mike Miller desperately need cover, cover provided by blaming tax increases on “consensus” and providing a latter day round of bread-and-circuses by way of slots.

Speaker Busch’s caucus, however, is where the rubber meets the road and are much more vulnerable in 2008 because of their inevitable vote to take more money from all Marylanders. His interest is in kicking the can down the road and betting that things aren’t as bad as the budget wonks claim.

Busch said he favors giving his members ample time to study options before asking them to approve a budget solution.

“This by far will be the most difficult vote that any of these elected officials will ever make,” Busch said. “It’s very tough.”

Fiscal Year 2008 will nearly be over by the time the legislature meets. If the budget estimates are correct Maryland will have dipped into its final reservoirs of liquidity. The Fiscal 2009 budget must be balanced and it is fairly difficult to see how any substantial package of taxes passes and begins to generated sufficient revenue to make much of a difference. It is also difficult to see how slots are implemented quickly enough to make a difference.

This will leave the Legislature with one option to make up the difference. Actual honest to gosh cuts in spending. Not just cuts in rates of growth but cuts in spending.

For once, caution and the need to spread blame as widely as possible may work to our advantage.

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