A program annually targeted for extinction as a "boondoggle" for the state's scrap metal dealers may get yet another reprieve this year, because of intervention by the House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin.
The $445,000 program, which provides $16 for each abandoned car removed from highways by scrap dealers and auto dismantlers, was killed for the first time this year by House and Senate budget committees, despite vigorous lobbying efforts by the scrap industry.
But 10 days ago Cardin asked Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's), chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, to hold off cutting the program so that he could look at compromises worked out in the past that saved the program.
But the subcommittee went ahead and cut the program, labeling it "the most useless" in the state budget. State transportation officials privately had called the program a "rip-off" that is not needed to get wrecked cars off the road and exists only to provide monetary gain to scrap dealers.
"We cut it in 1979, we cut it in 1981. I don't know why we can't cut it in 1983," Maloney said today. "The program performs no public service."
At today's House leadership meeting, Cardin announced that deletion of the item needs to be reconsidered because the program is funded by a law that provides $1 from the titling tax paid by each new car dealer.
Cardin said the appropriations subcommittee should restore the program and make killing it contingent on passage of legislation that would eliminate the law requiring funding. Such a bill has been introduced in the past and regularly killed by the House Economic Matters Committee, which also would receive this year's bill.
Maloney said making the cut contingent on approval by Economic Matters was effectively preserving the program. "They're talking about a contingency (the bill) that is simply not going to occur."
Cardin said action to force reconsideration of the cut was prompted not by scrap industry lobbying efforts but by a concern for House procedure.
"I don't know anything about the politics of this one way or the other," Cardin said. "My only concern is the process. The budget committee does not have jurisdiction over everything in this legislature. To kill a statutory program you have to have a bill. You can't just delete it from the budget. I almost backed off on it because it's a special interest issue and I know that. I don't like how that looks but the process is what's important."
In the past, the program, which was set up by Gov. Marvin Mandel, had been either eliminated or drastically reduced in the House only to be restored in the Senate after lobbying by scrap dealers.
The House, where most of the budget cutting is traditionally done, has gone after the program for the last few years. Last year, through a compromise with the Senate, the program was given $425,000.
The bounty program was set up in 1971 as part of the national highway beautification effort. At that time highways were littered with abandoned vehicles because the price of scrap metal, about $35 a ton, was so low there was no incentive for scrap dealers to pay trucks and workers to pick up the cars.
Today, however, state transportation officials say the price is high enough, about $70 a ton, to make a bounty unnecessary.
State Transportation Secretary Lowell K. Bridwell said today that the money allotted to the program ran out last year after about six months but scrap dealers continued to pick up the vehicles.
If the program were eliminated, Bridwell said, there would be "no noticeable effect on the number of abandoned vehicles on the highways."