Within minutes after the word spread through the State House last weekend that spending-limit forces had bucked some of the most powerful politicians here and pushed their package of bills through a crucial committee, Sen. Francis X. Kelly (D-Baltimore County) was gleefully planning to take a "hostage" to assure victory in the next round.
"I think that Memorial Stadium bill will stay in our committee until spending limits passes the House floor," Kelly told a colleague on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
As chief sponsor of bills that would place limits on the growth of Maryland's budget, Kelly had drawn the battle lines. He would work to delay a $22 million stadium renovation bill, which the Hughes administration and the House of Delegates want passed perhaps as much as they want the spending-limit bills defeated, to gain leverage for the budget-restricting package.
"I think I've got the votes to do it," said Kelly. "And I'm not opposed to holding (bills) hostage to get things done."
When he was asked about further strategy and how the spending-limit battle is shaping up in the House, however, Kelly demurred. "Look, I'm just a rookie. What do I know?" he said.
But his colleagues say Kelly, elected to his first public office last year, has caught on fast when it comes to using legislative gamesmanship to further his pet issues.
Kelly ran in conservative northern Baltimore County on a spending-limit platform, and the budget-restricting bills are his most beloved project.
He has persuaded 26 of the 47 state senators to join him in sponsoring the spending-limit package, the cornerstone of which is a bill tying annual spending increases to the personal income of Maryland citizens.
With other spending-limit advocates, he began working weeks before the session started to garner newspaper editorial endorsements for the proposal, which is the product of a legislative study commission on which he served.
If there is any criticism of Kelly from his colleagues, it is that he can become a zealot on issues he opposes, such as abortion, or favors, such as the spending limits.
"Frank's very dedicated, but he thinks spending limits are some sort of Biblical pronouncement," said Sen. Victor Crawford (D-Montgomery), who believes such limits are worth trying but says they are not a "panacea."
Sen. Jack Cade, an Anne Arundel Republican who opposes the spending-limit bills, said he believes Kelly has "given up on the General Assembly . . . that we can do the job. He gave up on us his first year down here."
Cade and other opponents of the measures argue that they would place irrational and arbitrary restrictions on government spending when, in fact, the legislature, through the budget process, can set goals and limits based on reason.
But Kelly, an insurance broker who first gained public attention as spokesman for Operation STOP, a Baltimore County citizens' group opposed to property taxes, seems oblivious to the criticism.
Kelly said he has watched government grow too fast while the legislature did nothing to stop it.
"To me, spending limits are the most important thing going," he said. "If we can't get government to live within parameters that people in business do -- that families do -- then we're going to go under."