The House of Delegates today passed and sent to Gov. Marvin Mandel an operating budget that will fall $100 million short of being in balance unless the legislature agres in the final days of its session to raise the sales tax.
The budget, which struggled through the Senate last week by one vote, survived a second assault by opponents of a tax increase today after a House-Senate conference committee agreed to cut only $24.7 million from the $3.9 million appropriation bill proposed by Mandel earlier this year.
Late this afternoon, the House, by a voice vote, gave preliminary approval to the bill that would incease the sales tax from 4 per cent to 5 per cent and provide an additional $120 million in revenues for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The budget bill passed the House by a vote of 97 to 40, but not until after some delegates staged a short-lived revolt by rejecting the compromise conference report.
Because the House had wanted to cut $6.3 million more than was approved by the Senate, it was necessary for three members from each chamber to sit down and work out a compromise. The Senate approved that compromise, and the budget, early this morning, but some members in both chambers were angry at the final package.
The first time the House voted on the compromise today, the vote was a tie, 64 to 64. Opponents of the package were bolstered by strong support from the Prince George's County and Baltimore city delegations.
But when House Majority Leader John S. Arnick moved to reconsider the vote, Del. Frederick C. Rummage, chairman of the 24-member, all-Democratic Prince George's delegation, was granted five minutes to hold a caucus.
Rummage, who was among 15 persons in the delegation who voted "no" the first time, compared to seven in favor and two abstentions, urged his colleagues to "go ahead with the leadership" on the reconsideration. Del. Craig S. Knoll agreed, saying, "We have sent a message to Garcia."
Some opponents were firm, however, Del. Leo E. Green said, "Send 'em two messages. This is our last leverage, this is Custer's last stand."
The caucus broke up without agreement, however, and the delegates returned to the chamber where, along with a number of others, many changed their previous vote and approved the report by a vote of 93 to 33.
Rummage told the House that he would support the compromise, because "our concers are much more basic than can be resolved in a conference committee."
The item that sparked the biggest debate was restoration by the conference committee of $235,142 earmarked for payment to Morton S. Sarubin as owner of the Continental Can Co. factory in East Baltimore that is the proposed site of a new prison.
Del. John W. Douglass (D-Baltimore) protested the "near scandalous . . . waste of taxpayers' money" on the building that the state leased in November from Sarubin, a cousin of Irvin Kovens, the Baltimore political boss who is a codefendant with his lifelong friend, Mandel, on political corruption charges.
"We've spent almost $400,000 on a building that is 90 per cent vacant," Douglass complained, adding that the appropriation includes "spending $40,000 in the midst of an energy crisis to heat a building we don't even own."
Del. Charles A. Doctor (D-Montgomery) charged that the contract signed with Sarubin in December violated state law because it had not been approved by two independent appraisers. Doctor therefore urged the delegates not to approve the appropriation and force Sarubin to "sue us." He said Sarubin, who purchased the building only last August, "already has gone home with enough marbles."
Doctor also wondered aloud "why we need a Frederick fuel oil dealer to supply a building in Baltimore." According to figures supplied to Douglass by the Department of Corrections, $52,501 has been paid the Well Brothers Fuel Oil Co. for supplying fuel to the near-vacant car factory. The owner of that firm, Irvine Well, was the principal organizer of the Francis Scott Key Bank in Frederick, which was the subject of an influence-peddling controversy in 1974.
Among other items restored by the conference committee were funds for books at the Morgan State University and Bowie State College libraries, an action believed to be aimed at getting budget support from the Black Cancus; four additional security guards for the Governor's Mansion; and the $1,000 annual honorarium to the beleaguered Maryland poet laureate, Vincent Godfrey Burns.