Freshman Del. Danny Long got the bad news last month: Gov. Harry Hughes had designated his marshy Eastern Shore district as the site for a new, politically unpopular state prison.
But he got some better news this week: to soften the blow, leaders of the House Appropriations Committee agreed to come up with money for new roads, sewers and a local jail in his district--if the state prison is eventually built there.
In the parlance of the legislature, Long has been initiated into the world of pork-barrel politics, which consumes the General Assembly about this week every year as the capital budget comes up for consideration.
With a freneticism that has been growing all week, senators and delegates have been negotiating with members of the crucial budget committees for millions of state dollars to pay for ball parks, historic homes, theaters and bridges in their respective districts.
Said Sen. Frank Komenda (D-Prince George's), on one of the budget committees, "It gets sort of like a big crap shoot."
Hughes is a key player in the pork-barrel sweepstakes.
He draws up the capital budget and bond bills for such state items as prison and school construction, building renovations and shore erosion funds.
The total cost of the governor's package this year is $175 million, $20 million below the amount of money the legislature says the state can spend on capital projects. The governor left the $20 million gap intentionally, to give legislators money to play with.
"Let's put it this way: It's a frank recognition that if you don't leave room for it (legislative pork barrel), they make it by cutting our budget," said one Hughes' aide.
In fact, the budget committees have already pared Hughes' budget by about $6.5 million to give themselves more money. Gone are such items as renovations to the state police pistol range and a new National Guard armory.
In their place, the budget committees will adopt about $26 million worth of pet projects introduced by legislators, the total worth of which is about $90 million. Some projects will have merit; many, as one senator put it, will be "a little shaky," but nearly everyone will get a share.
When it comes to pork-barrel politics, everyone plays, even the mighty.
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, who is pushing several major statewide projects, also has his eye on $200,000 for a Jewish Heritage Center, a project that his heavily Jewish district would likely find worthy.
Sen. Lawrence Levitan, chairman of the budget and tax committee which approves all pork-barrel projects, has been lobbying for $150,000 to dreg Lake Whetstone in his Montgomery County district. "You are going to hear a lot about Lake Whetstone," Levitan confidently predicted this week.
And even the governor's wife, Pat Hughes, is said to have a pet project-- $212,000 to construct a visitor's center in the lobby of the Department of Natural Resources. "We got the word on that one," said one member of the House Appropriations Committee, which nonetheless voted to cut some of the money allotted for the project.
Appropriations Chairman R. Clayton Mitchell, who has been cornered by cajoling delegates in bars, committee rooms and hallways, said of the pork process: "This is probably more important to delegates than the operating budget. It's their personal project, something people constituents can see when they drive by."
Mitchell, an Eastern Shore Democrat, speaks from experience. In years past he used his seat on the appropriations committee to finagle millions of dollars for a state multiservice center and an Easter Seals camp in his home district.
As always, Baltimore City legislators have the largest wish list, some $10 million in projects. Baltimore County will likely get $100,000 to renovate a Catholic school built in the 1800s. Western Maryland will probably get $2.5 million to control flooding of the Carroll Creek in downtown Frederick. The bond bill's sponsor, Del. James E. (Doc) McClellan, had a business flooded by the creek not long ago.
Perhaps the only group of legislators in Annapolis reluctant to reach into the pork barrel are those from Montgomery County. This year they are asking only for money to dredge Lake Whetstone and renovate the Olney Theater.
"We always play by the 'rules' when no one else does," sighed Montgomery Del. Jennie M. Forehand, who as an appropriations member has been watching the lobbying up close.
Prince George's County, with a total of six seats on two budget committees, is looking for funding for a new local jail, and very likely for three historic houses--especially one Oxon Hill mansion built in the 1930s.
That Oxon Hill project would pay for a parking lot and it is the pet project of Sen. Frank Komenda, a budget committee member. In his election last year, Komenda narrowly defeated former Del. Charles S. Blumenthal, who for years had made the Oxon Hill house his cause.
Prince George's is also likely to win approval for a $1.5-million drunk drivers jail, which has been introduced by county Dels. Timothy F. Maloney and Pauline Menes. Maloney is on the appropriations committee and is a member of the small subcommittee that draws of the list of "acceptable" pork-barrel projects.
Four years ago as a freshman member of the appropriations committee, Maloney watched in amazement as the chairman and several long-tenured members of his committee at the last minute quietly amended some of their special projects onto the capital budget by swapping them with an equivalent amount of social projects.
This year Maloney was not afflicted by such naivete. As his committee voted to approve several major bond bills, Maloney quietly slipped on an amendment to provide money for the drunk drivers jail he has been touting at home. "You live and you learn," he said.