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Legislators Give Up Work, Play to Return to Annapolis

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Special Report: Special Session 2007: Budget Crisis

By Bernie Becker
Capital News Service
Friday, Oct. 26, 2007

ANNAPOLIS - Just avoid November, Sen. Paul Pinsky thought.

With the Annapolis rumor mill abuzz about the possibility that Gov. Martin O'Malley would call a special session starting in November, Pinsky planned a Caribbean vacation with his wife for late October.

Then the governor called the session for Oct. 29 -- the day Pinsky was set to return.

"I was transferred three times" by operators in India as he tried to cancel his trip, the Prince George's Democrat said. "You almost have to have a death notice to get a reimbursement."

Pinsky is not alone. Across the state, legislators who work as everything from law professors to farmers have been scrambling to get their affairs in order so they can come to the special session Monday to try to close the state's estimated $1.7 billion shortfall.

Not that they are complaining -- or surprised -- to be called back to the capital.

Being a legislator is "my first priority," said Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, who is an insurance broker at his day job.

For Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton, D-Charles, the special session was widely expected, "so I'd been making preparations" at his Cedar Hill Farm. Most of his pumpkin crop has been harvested and his fall work mostly completed, Middleton said.

But that does not mean Middleton would have been relaxing next week if he was not in Annapolis. A farmer with nothing to do "just isn't a very good farmer," he said.

Lawmakers like Middleton are also uncertain just how long this special session will last.

Special sessions called in 2004 and 2006 by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich took a combined seven days.

This session, which will consider O'Malley's multi-pronged revenue package and his proposal to expand Medicaid among other issues, could take far longer, observers say.

The General Assembly had held more hearings and completed more background work before the last two special sessions, which were narrowly focused on medical malpractice insurance and utility rates, Middleton said.

With a longer session looming, Brochin, who works on full commission, might lose weeks that could be spent looking for new clients. And he will also have to carve out time to drive to Hagerstown to check on those clients he already has.

But even legislators who work in the shadow of the State House say their other job will be affected by the special session.

"Downtown (Annapolis) already has a parking problem," said Delegate Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, who owns a jewelry store on Annapolis' Main Street. Plus, "you're taking away my early Christmas season" if the special session goes into late November, he added.

"Luckily, I can set up appointments for Saturday and the evenings," George said.

Maryland legislators get stipends for meals and lodging during special sessions, but no overtime pay.

The House speaker and Senate president make $56,500 a year for their part-time work in the legislature, and all other members make $43,500.

While some members believe they have avoided major conflicts at the office, they may not be so lucky on the home front.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, says he will spend the session "zooming back and forth" from Annapolis to Washington, D.C., where he teaches law at American University.

"I'll be teaching all my classes," Raskin said. "But what could really create problems for me is my kids are adamant that I make it home" for Halloween.

Despite the hassles, even legislators who opposed this month's special session say they are honored to be headed back to Annapolis, although it could mean a hit at home or in the wallet.

"There's not one day that you walk up the steps" of the State House that you do not feel privileged and honored to represent the people, said Senate Minority Whip Allan Kittleman, R-Howard.

But privilege only goes so far with Internet travel companies; Pinsky is still trying to get his money back.

"Hopefully, this letter from the governor" calling the special session will do the trick, he said.

Copyright 2007 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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