Minutes after Gov. Harry Hughes embarked on what is shaping up as the biggest legislative battle of his career, he found himself besieged.
The scene was the richly carpeted chamber of Senate President James Clark. Hughes was there last night, calmly explaining his surprise $58 million tax and spending package to a group of senators, when he was interrupted by an irate Sen. Tommie Broadwater (D-Prince Geoge's).
"What's in it for welfare people?" demanded Broadwater, an outspoken member of the black caucus, which advocates an increase in montly welfare payments. The governor answered quietly that he could not find enough money to pay for the increases this year.
"Then I don't want to be part of it," Broadwater snapped, and started to storm out of the room, beforing being restrained by his colleagues.
And so it went, all last night and much of today. Rural legislators are calling the package a sop to urban areas. The black caucus is demonstrating. And wealthy Montgomery County insists that its pockets are being picked to help the struggling, but politically potent, city of Baltimore.
The plan that Hughes crafted in hopes of including something for almost every major constituency in this diverse state has instead come under attack from most of them. Even Del. Dennis McCoy, chairman of the Baltimore delegation, which is perceived by most legislators as a big winner in the Hughes package, complained: "It's too little, too late."
Ironically, most legislators say they support "the concepts" embodied in the package. Like Hughes, they say they want to raise employes' pay, to shift to more progressive gas tax, to bolster diminishing state general revenues, to aid education and to repair rutted roads and sagging bridges.
But they say they don't like the idea of doing it all in the last three weeks of a money-conscious session dominated by budget-cutting that has pitted House against Senate and one delegation against another.
"Everybody's frustrated. The conservatives are unhappy because you can't make big cuts and the liberals are unhappy because you can't create new programs. The cutters are frustrated and the spenders are frustrated," said Del. Gerald Devlin, vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which will rule on the fate of the truck and gas tax measures in the House.
Even state employes, who would get a $500 across-the-board raise from the package, are angrily complaining that the extra monies aren't enough.
In an attempt to soothe the unrest, the normally detached Hughes has plunged as never before into the legislative fray, calling full House and Senate committees to his office, one by one, to hear his pitch, and to see his revenue charts and graphs supports his plan.
"This will probably be the biggest effort he's ever put on," Hughes' press secretary, Gene Oishi, said of the lobbying blitz by his boss.
But some legislators claim the unrest is so widespread that Hughes will be unable to defuse it in three weeks. Taken aback somewhat by Hughes' all-out lobbying effort, they complain he should have brought them into the decision-making process before unveiling his plan -- a 2-cent per gallon boost in gas taxes, an increase in truck fees, and other revenue measures, linked to the employes' pay raise, $12 million in education aid, $300,000 for day care and a variety of road and bridge improvements.
Because he waited until now to propose the package, they say, it may get ties up in a logjam behind major bills, including the much-debated budget, which reached the Senate floor today. Hughes' $6 million racing consolidation plan is also still stalled in committee.
And on top of that, none of the legislators are eager in this tax-conscious year to raise gasoline taxes by 2 cents per gallon and to increase truck fees unless then can modify the package to satisfy their special constituencies.