The rural and conservative factions in the Maryland Senate, with the help of some new-found friends from the suburbs, today accomplished a lifelong ambition. It may last for only one day, but this afternoon, with one surprising vote, they finally got back at Baltimore City.
At stake was the distribution of $6.7 million in state funds to Baltimore and the 23 counties in the form of aid to local police departments. It was a modest package, in terms of dollars, and it was based on the same kind of distribution formula that has been used in Annapolis for years for state aid to local police and education and welfare programs.
The senators from the less populous parts of the state have never liked the formulas. As Sen. Fred Malkus (D-Eastern Shore), the dean of the rural minority, often complains: "It is always two for them and one for the rest of us." But the aid legislation has almost always passed just as Baltimore wants it because of a strong alliance of city and suburban Washington senators.
Today, Sen. Arthur Helton, a moderate Democrat from Harford County, decided to challenge that alliance one more time. Arguing that "we can no longer stand there while the city picks our pocket," Helton presented an amendment to the police aid formula that would give Baltimore $2 million less than it sought and spread that money among the counties.
To the surprise of almost everyone in the Senate chambers, Helton's amendment passed by a 26-21 vote.
The alliance of Baltimore and the two Washington suburban counties-known here as "The Big Three"-had temporarily crumbled, with four Prince George's and two Montgomery senators voting for Helton's amendment. One of the four Prince George's senators, Thomas V. (Mike) Miller, said he was finally "voting the way I want and now can since Steny is not around." Miller noted that former senate president Steny H. Hoyer, during his years as the county's Democratic leader, would not have tolerated such a break in the alliance.
From Montgomery County the rural faction gained unexpected support from a freshman Democrat, Sen, Sidney Karmer. "When I ran for office, I told the people that I would try to get as much money returned to our county as possible," said Kramer. "We give the state 20 percent of the total in taxes and get back only 9 percent because of bills like this."
As soon as the vote flashed on the electronic tote board, it became apparent that there would be a move to reverse what the Senate had just done.
Red-faced Baltimore senaotrs quickly moved through the chambers reminding the Washington suburban legislators that they would need Baltimore support for their favorite projects, such as funding for the metro system. The city's chief lobbyist, Janet Hoffman, jumped from her set in the Senate gallery and scurried downstairs to help the cause. "She must have set a record getting down here," said rural Sen. James Simpson (D-Charles County), who sarcastically refers to Hoffman as "the 48th senator."
Prince George's Sen. Tommie Broadwater, who has replaced Hoyer as the firmest proponent of the Baltimore-suburban Washington alliance, turned to Sen. John Garrity, one of the four county senators who voted for the amendment, and pleaded with him to ask for reconsideration.
After mulling the situation over for a few minutes, Garrity decided to go along with Broadwater's request.
Helton, realizing that the tide was turning against him, then angrily threatened a filibuster if the issue was brought back for another vote. "I guarantee we'll tie up the Senate from now until the session's over if you plan to bring it up again," Helton bellowed.
But the senators voted 24 to 22 to reconsider the amendment Thursday.Malkus said he would be delighted to join Helton if he wanted to filibuster. But as a man who has championed the rural interests in Annapolis for 37 years with ever diminishing success, "the Silver Fox," as Malkus is called, conceded that today's victory would probably soon be gone.
"When I first saw the vote, I guess I smiled for a half second," said Malkus. "I figured nothing like that could last long around here. We're fighting the most unfair people in the world."