Washington suburban legislators last night failed to obtain their primary objective of this session when a Senate committee killed bills designed to insure future funding of Metro's operating and construction costs in Maryland.
The defeat touched off an unusually bitter exchange at the late night committee session, with Montgomery and Prince George's county senators accusing their opponents from Baltimore of abandoning them in their hour of need after years of support for costly Baltimore projects.
"Baltimore City does nothing but take and never gives back," said Sen. Victor L. Crawford, a Montgomery Democrat, who sponsored one of the bulls. "Year after year we support their needs and they just walked away from us when the Washington suburbs have their backs against the wall."
At issue were two bills described as essential by Washington area lawmakers. One was intended to help Montgomery and Prince George's absorb their share of Metro's annual operating deficits by rechanelling a fraction of the state sales tax to all counties to be used for transportation purposes.
The second bill would have authorized the state to contribute $156 million for the first phase of Metro construction, but the payments are scheduled to run our at the end of next year.
The Washington suburbanites made both measures their top legislative priorities this year, hoping to find the governor and General Assembly in a generous mood because of the state's record-high $300 million budgetary surplus -- an unexpected windfall that will become available in July.
Instead, they found Gov. Harry R. Hughes unwilling to redirect any part of the state sales tax to the counties and a Senate committee reluctant to buck the governor's office or appropriate more money for what some described as a train that shuttles government workers from their suburban homes to Washington and back.
"For the wealthier counties (Montgomery and Prince George's) to come down here and ask us to take them off the hook is ridiculous," explained Sen. Julian Lapides, one of the three Baltimore Democrats who voted against the legislation. "For them to come down for the grab is hard to take."
It was Lapides who sparked one of the strongest responses in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee last night. Sen. Peter Bozick, a Prince George's Democrat, was remainded of Baltimore's appetite for the state budget, especially the state plan to build a $700 million subway system.
"They're in there constantly grabbing and trying to rape the state," fumed Bozick, one of the sponsors of the sales tax measure. "They've got their nerve coming down here and crying on our shoulder and giving us nothing in return."
For Bozick and his allies, last nighths loss does not spell final defeat. They have another year before the state makes its final payment for construction, and they have another three weeks of this session to revive their bills in committee or on the Senate floor.
In the meantime, Hughes has come up with a temporary remedy to help the two Washington suburbs pick up their $29.5 million share of Metro's operating deficit this year. He has asked the legislature to approve a plan that would distribute $28 million among the state's subdivisions, including $6.5 million for Montgomery and Prince George's.
The one-time grant -- added to state and federal aid already budgeted for the two counties -- would leave only $7.5 million of the $29.5 million to be paid by the two counties. That amounts to less than their share of Metro operating costs in the past fiscal year.