Prince George's County was on the verge today of either finding the money it needs to balance its budget and avert hundreds of layoffs or losing the entire funding package it has worked for throughout the legislative session.
The county legislators scrambled all day in an effort to line up the passage of two measures: a new state lottery game called Lotto, which would bring in $6 million the first year, and a bill that would raise the personal property tax on businesses, a proposal worth about $10 million.
The legislators squeaked the bill authorizing the new lottery game through the House of Delegates on Wednesday. But they learned today that there is enough opposition to the game in the Senate that the measure might die there.
Gov. Harry Hughes said today that he would sign the Lotto bill but would give local governments direct access to the funds for only one year. Normally lottery funds are sent directly to the state's general fund. The bill is now before the Senate Budget and Tax Committee.
Meanwhile, delegation leaders continued to wrestle with the touchy problem of what to do with a series of amendments placed on the property tax bill. It is scheduled to reach the House floor Friday.
It came out of the House Ways and Means Committee with two amendments that are unacceptable to both County Executive Parris N. Glendening and to delegation members. One would bar the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City from ever imposing such a tax again and the other would limit any utility rate increases to Prince George's even though the facilities involved are regional.
Those amendments were tacked onto the bill by Del. Dennis C. McCoy, the chairman of the Baltimore delegation. As of tonight, McCoy had refused to back away from the amendments.
The importance of the two bills was magnified today when Glendening released his fiscal 1984 budget with a list of items that would be put back in the budget if the legislators can come up with more money. According to the Glendening budget, $7.9 million would avoid any layoffs and $16 million any cutbacks in vital services.
"Sixteen million, bingo," said Prince George's County delegation chairman Charles J. Ryan. "Or should I say Lotto?"
With financial salvation in sight but still far away, frustration began to spread. "Here we are, about to pull this thing off and we could still lose it all," said Sen. Frank J. Komenda (D-Prince George's). "It's really a scary time for all of us."
McCoy said he is not trying to hurt Prince George's County. Said he: "They can do to themselves whatever they want. But this the property tax bill is a bad taxing mechanism. It sets up two tiers, one for businesses, one for other real estate. That sets up a bad business climate and I have a problem with that."
Komenda, however, was furious. "I'm really tired of being jerked around by Dennis on this," he said. "I've talked to him several times to try to get the bill back in its original form without amendments and nothing has happened. Personally, I'm not averse to doing something on that Memorial Stadium bill to get his attention."
The Memorial Stadium bill is a $15 million bond authorized by the state for improvement at Baltimore's baseball and football stadium. The bill passed the House today by a 114-to-11 vote but only after Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin headed off a move by Prince George's delegates to delay a vote on the bill. Cardin promised to talk to McCoy on their behalf.
Cardin said he agreed to intervene because, "Prince George's is desperate. I'm not crazy about voting for this bill but if the amendment limiting the rate hikes to one jurisdiction came out, I would vote for it."
Cardin spoke with McCoy late this afternoon and reported back to delegation chairman Ryan that the troublesome amendment limiting increases to Prince George's would probably be removed. Still, Ryan, who met with McCoy and Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer this afternoon, was not so sure.
"I've got 18 hours until this comes to the floor tomorrow Friday to get this straightened out. We still have a lot of work left," Ryan said.