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  Md. Senate Logjam Riles Glendening

By Robert E. Pierre and Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 10, 1999; Page B01

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) threatened last night to slash funding for the pet projects of state senators who have stalled his gay rights initiative and a proposed tobacco tax increase.

"If these bills go down, there is going to be hell to pay," Glendening said during a brief meeting with reporters. "I have line-item veto authority. You're going to see one heck of an active pen next week."

Saying he was "frustrated, unhappy and angry," the governor contended that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) and "tobacco lobbyists" were to blame for the logjam caused by prolonged debate in the Senate over the tax increase.

With less than 72 hours remaining in Maryland's General Assembly session, and much of his agenda stalled by recalcitrant legislators, Glendening accused one Senate committee yesterday of holding an "ice cream party" instead of voting on his gay rights proposal.

Liberal Democrats in the Senate also lashed out at Miller in an obscenity-laced exchange in a hallway off the Senate chamber. They are angry with the Senate president for allowing other legislation to move forward while debate stymies the tobacco tax. They want Miller to bottle up all legislation to put pressure on Republicans -- and some Southern Maryland Democrats -- who are working to avoid a vote on the tobacco tax, which they might lose.

"If they want to bring things to a halt, we should bring things to a halt and point the finger of blame," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), who has criticized Miller.

Miller dismissed the governor's criticism as "too ridiculous to comment on. I'm trying to get . . . the votes to clean up his dirty work."

The debate over the tobacco tax has consumed the Senate for the past two days. Pending is a proposal to double -- to 72 cents -- the state's levy on a pack of cigarettes. Glendening initially proposed a $1-per-pack increase, but he agreed to the 36-cent increase when it was clear the Senate's budget committee wouldn't go any higher.

That sum was still enough to anger senators who oppose a tax increase and Glendening's ploy to leverage support by tying funding for legislators' pet projects to the tax's revenue.

Last night, however, Glendening said the delay on the vote was an attempt to further lower the tax -- which he ruled out. Anything lower, he said, would not be enough to discourage teen smoking, which was his ultimate goal.

Voting yesterday, the full Senate approved stripped-down legislation expanding collective bargaining for state employees. But the entire effort will fail if the Senate's version is not reconciled with a broader House version by the time the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn -- by midnight Monday.

Glendening had proposed extending collective bargaining rights to about 42,000 state employees. Those employees have bargaining rights now, but only because Glendening made it possible under an executive order during his first year in office.

Glendening wants to write those rights into law. He has been a strong supporter of labor, and unions have responded in kind, providing money and volunteers to his reelection campaign. The governor sought to make law that all employees -- whether they chose union representation or not -- pay fees to the union responsible for negotiating on their behalf. Glendening also hoped to make more than 8,000 non-faculty state university employees eligible to join unions.

But the legislature held him back: The House removed any provision requiring fees. The Senate agreed and also cut the non-faculty university employees from the legislation.

Glendening said last night that he was pleased with the progress and that he still hoped to include the university employees.

The prognosis was not good for Glendening's initiative to ban discrimination in housing and employment against gay men and lesbians.

The governor made a personal appeal for the legislation, testifying before a House committee for the first time since taking office and invoking the story of his own deceased brother, who was gay and suffered from AIDS.

The House passed the legislation, and Glendening lobbied members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings intensely in recent weeks, including money for some of their pet projects in his latest budget proposal to leverage their support.

But the committee appeared uninterested. During an hour-long meeting yesterday, members ate a potluck lunch, exchanged gifts and thanked staff members and each other for their hard work and collegiality. Then they adjourned.

In Annapolis, such complacency means one thing: Try again next year. Chairman Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil) said the committee would reconvene if time permits.

But Glendening was livid. "Citizens ought to be outraged," he said, at "people sitting around laughing at an ice cream party instead of doing the work they were elected to do."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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