The great Metro battle of 1979 has ended without a single shot fired, leaving Washington suburban lawmakers short of the money they wanted but reassured of their power to command attention for local projects.
Just a few days after they promised an all-out fight for Metro construction funds and enlisted the support of the governor, legislators from Prince George's and Montgomery counties now say they will give up the struggle until next year.
"I've had it," sighed Sen. Peter Bozick, chairman of the Prince George's delegation. "I think we've proved our point. The governor has indicated he believes in Metro and will assist us anyway he can. There's no reason to fight it out this year."
Thus ends one of the zaniest, most tangled legislative stories of the year-an 11-week drama marked by loud saber rattling, bitter feelings, the testing of a new governor, sudden policy reversals and, most of all, confusion.
At one point this week, the issue became so clouded that the Washington area representatives and Gov. Harry R. Hughes were spouting diametrically opposed versions of a meeting they had together a few days earlier.
"This thing has been so screwed around so long we don't have enough time to get it straight," conceded Sen. Victor Crawford, head of the Montgomery delegation. "I guess wehve done the best we can under the circumstances."
The story begins at the start of the session when senators from the two Washington suburbs introduced legislation that would have required the state to pay $156 million for the second phase of Metro construction in Maryland.
The state already has appropriated $160 million for Metro's first leg, but the remaining funds are expected to run out at the end of next year and the lawmakers said their counties need assurances of more money when preparing next year's budget.
The bill ran into trouble from the very start when Hughes opposed it, claiming enough money remains to carry the counties through 1981. When the bill came up for a vote in committee, it was killed with the help of senators from Baltimore.
That committee decision set the stage for the first blowup. At the fiery voting session, the Washington suburbanities accused their Baltimore opponents of betraying them after years of unquestioned support for the city's costly projects.
Then came the first policy reversal. Worried about threats of reprisals by Prince George's and Montgomery law-makers, the Baltimore senators-led by Majority Leader Rosalie Abrams-promised to support Metro funding if the bill came up for reconsideration.
Hughes also received the signals. Concerned that the large delegations from the Washington area would tie up his legislative programs by trying to "get even" with Baltimore, the first-year governor modified his opposition to Metro financing.
Hughes was now willing to back an amended version of the $156 million construction bill. He said he would help legislators pass a measure for $25 million-enough to assure county budget makers-and consider more funding next year.
Just as the Washington area legislators were savoring their victory and planning their strategy to offset the growing opposition to the $25 million bill, events overtook them in what became known as "the $25 million misunderstanding."
The misunderstanding arose last Saturday when Bozick met with Hughes and though he heard the governor say the $25 million was not necessary because Hughes would transfer transit funds to Metro later this year by administrative action.
Elated that the Washington suburbanites could achieve their objective without a bruising legislative battle, Bozick passed along the word to his allies and they decided to change their plans once again and drop their efforts to revive the bill.
Their jubilation didn't last long. While Bozick and Crawford were boasting of their parliamentry coup in the Senate lounge last Tuesday, Hughes was holding a press confrence one floor up flatly denying he had ever made such a commitment.
Once the disappointment set in, they returned to see Hughes. As it turned out, the governor did say the $25 million was not needed but added that a different kind of legislation was required-authorizing the secretary of transportation to transfer funds to Metro.
"The breakdown came," said Bozick, "when he said, 'You don't need the bill." My impression was he could give us the money by an administrative decision and we wouldn't have to have a bitter fight in the legislature. We just plain understood him."
With their bill withdrawn and the governor never really promising to finance the rail system by administrative flat, the legislators began realizing they had ended up with little more than a general statement of support from Hughes.
They could have tried to revive the $25 million bill, but the session days were dwindling and the patience of the General Assembly with Metro was passing. What is left, they say, is a head start for next year.
"We've got the governor's blessing and now we can start planning for next year," said Bozick, "Like an attorny, you build your case up carefully and you make sure you don't bruise anybody's ego. There are too many egos involved this year."
There are those who believe the legislators from the Washington area never intended to get more than a commitment this year. They pushed the new governor as far as they could, and when they succeeded, realized they may have gotten in too far.
"There are a lot of egos involved in this," said Prince George's Del. Gerard Devlin. "There are people who like to be out front on an issue to dramatize their efforts for their constituents. Some of the same people don't have the stomach for a fight."
At the end of this week, the options were clear. They could still have tried to revive the $25 million bill, but the session days were dwindling and the legislature's patience for Metro wanting. What is left, they say, is a head-start for next year.
"We've got the governor's blessing and now we can start planning for next year." said Bozick. "Like an attorney, you build your case up carefully and make sure don't bruise anybody's ego. There are too many egos involved this year."