The move to finance races for the top four political jobs in Maryland with taxpayers' money was all but doomed yesterday when a key House of Delegates committee chairman revealed plans to prevent a campaign funding bill from reaching the House floor for a vote.
"I'm not moving it," Del. Charles J. Krysiak (D-Baltimore) said of the public financing bill that passed the Senate by a wide margin. "I think we have a bad bill. It's just too late in the session to tie things up with such a bad bill."
As chairman of the House Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, Krysiak has the power to control the agenda of bills that must pass through his committee in the remaining two days of the session before reaching the House floor.
Kyrysiak's decision, announced at a committee hearing, prompted complaints from Common Cause lobbyist who helped draft the measure and several committee members who favor the bill and believe they have enough support to send it to the floor.
"There's a little bit of legislative dictatorship there," said Lee Perlman, Common Cause's chief lobbyist. "He knows the votes are there and he's just killing the bill. It's an example of how this place can be unfair. Things should be voted on their merits."
"I don't think it's an equitable way of handling the situation," said Del. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's). "But he's the chairman and under the rules, he's entitled to do whatever he wants with the agenda. it doesn't seem fair, but what can you do?"
The bill, sponsered by Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, is the fourth successive effort by reformers to repair the badly flawed public financing law passed by an election-year General Assembly in 1974 after a series of public scandals.
The law now on the books provides for public financing of almost every state and local office, but the financing mechanism in the law - voluntary contributions from tax-payers - has raised nowhere near the amount of money needed to pay for such an ambitious program.
This years' bill would have limited the law to only the top four elected officials - governor, Lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller - and financed the elections through a general fund budget appropriation of more than $4 million.
Krysiak, one of the General Assembly's most ardent foes of reform legislation, said he will give his committee a chance to vote on the bill. But, he said, he will postpone consideration until too late for the bill to reach the floor.
"I may pull my committee off the floor at 11:30 (the final night of the session) and make sure the bill gets to Jackie (the House filing clerk) at 12," he said with a sly grin. The session officially ends at midnight Monday.
Proponents of public financing could petition the bill to the floor without a committee report. But such a move requires support of more than half of the House's members, who have turned a cold shoulder to similar measures in the past.
"It's dead this year," Del. Paul E. Weisengoff (D-Baltimore) said of the public financing issue. "We've got the votes to kill it. Let the next General Assembly take it up. The law doesn't start until 1982 anyway."
Last year, reformers agreed to give up a fight for the same bill in return for a promise by public financing opponents not to repeal the 1974 law, which has netted only $400,000 in contributions added by taxpayers to their income tax returns.
Krysiak said part of last year's agreement included a pledge by reformers not to bring up campaign financing this year. "People run scared in an election year," he said. "They do crazy things, like pass this kind of bill."