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The General Assembly Looks To Congress As The 2013 Session Begins
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January 10, 2013
It was unusually warm and sunny in Annapolis yesterday yet the General Assembly opened its 2013 session under a very dark cloud—the fiscal uncertainty inspired by Congress’ failed to resolve its budget disputes. WYPR’s Karen Hosler filed this report.
The State House lobby was bursting with the usual opening day high spirits yesterday even as Maryland’s political leaders fretted about the financial danger looming ahead.
US Senator Barbara Mikulski, who lead Maryland’s congressional delegation to the General Assembly’s opening ceremonies, warned that the next three months will be harrowing in both Washington and Annapolis.
“You’ve all heard the drama of the fiscal cliff, but now we face these other cliffs. The debt ceiling, the sequester, and the ongoing functioning of government. It will make it harder on America and harder on you to have uncertainly about what the federal budget is going to be.”
Mikulski was roundly applauded by the state legislators for her recent appointment as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. And she promised not to forget Maryland as she takes on the new national role.
“But I will tell you we’re going to stay in close communication with the governor, and with all of you on how we can proceed.”
Mike Miller, who is beginning his 26th year as state Senate president, complained to his colleagues that Washington is hobbled by a refusal of Democrats as well as Republicans to compromise; particularly on Social Security and Medicare.
"The Democrats have to give up on some of these entitlements. It’s as simple as that, folks. They really do. I mean we’re going to go broke. The country’s going to go broke in the year 2024 if there’s not some adjustments means-based. People of wealth don’t deserve the same entitlements as people that are needy.”
Maryland is more vulnerable to federal budget inaction than many other states because so many of its residents are federal employees or contractors. But the whole national economy is hurt by the uncertainty of whether Congress will be able to act.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, a former state Senate president now serving in Congress as House Democratic Whip, said reaching a timely deal is critical.
“People want jobs, they need jobs. In my view, if we come to a compromise on getting this country on a fiscally sustainable path, it will be the biggest, single stimulus package that we could pass.”
Governor Martin O’Malley told reporters he’s designing his budget proposal for the year ahead with extra rainy days funds and other hedges against a Congress-lead disaster. And despite his bitter disputes with the General Assembly last year, he praised the legislators for ultimately coming to terms.
“As Republicans and Democrats, we’ve had our disagreements but we’ve managed to maintain that creative tension that allows us to move forward.”
The job is surely made easier because the state government is controlled entirely by Democrats. Even so, O’Malley expressed doubts yesterday about whether he would be able to win support for a gas or sales tax hike he wants to upgrade the state’s mass transit.
“The question is whether we have the consensus and the will to do this at this time. Soon it just won’t make any sense to invest in the red line or the purple line if there’s not going to be the revenues to support its construction. That would be kind of silly.”
One point seems clear, in these times of deficit, debt, and deep spending cuts, there won’t likely be much help coming from Congress.
I’m Karen Hosler, reporting in Annapolis, for 88.1 WYPR
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