Two bills designed to bail out financially strapped Prince George's County moved forward in the Maryland General Assembly today, one toward easy passage, the other, in all likelihood, towards death.
The legislation that now appears likely to pass is the one creating a new lottery game, "Lotto." It is expected to produce about $6 million for the county in fiscal 1984 and about the same amount for Baltimore City. The city today brought a high-power delegation, led by Mayor William Donald Schaefer, before the Senate Finance Committee to plead for the bill.
The second bill, which would increase the personal property tax on businesses in Prince George's, passed the House of Delegates 89-to-18 today, but it appeared to be a Pyrrhic victory. The bill now goes to the Senate with an amendment that county legislators say will force them to kill the measure. If passed, the new tax, which would primarily affect utility companies, would be worth $10 million to Prince George's.
Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening has said he needs the money from those bills to avoid layoffs and cuts in county services.
"Right now we just want to get 'Lotto' passed, and make sure everything stays lined up," said Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller (D-Prince George's). "We'll worry about the property tax later. Right now, though, I don't see how we can save it."
The reason for Miller's pessimism is an amendment that requires that any rise in utility rates caused by the new tax will be absorbed only by Prince George's users. That amendment was insisted upon by Montgomery County delegates who feared the new tax would cause higher rates for their constituents.
Miller and the other Prince George's senators say they will not push to strip the amendment from the property tax bill because they want to protect support for Lotto. They have lined up six of Montgomery County's seven senators to vote for Lotto on the floor and fear they will lose those votes if they begin changing the amendment to the property tax bill.
Today, with Schaefer leading the way, Lotto passed the Finance Committee by a 6-to-2 vote.
"I just can't say enough to get over to you how important what you are going to do here today is. This is not a crying towel session, but this is the only chance for us to get an infusion of money this year," Schaefer said.
"I don't know whether to cry, laugh or jump up and down and tell you this, but we've got to have this money," Schaefer said.
As promised by members of the Baltimore and Prince George's House delegations, the bill was amended today to ensure that if Lotto sales hurt the state's other lottery games, money from Lotto would go to the state fund to cover the difference. Additionally, the formula that sends the money directly to local jurisdictions instead of to the state's general fund will be effective for one year, through half of the 1984 budget year and into the 1985 budget year.
The only threat to the smooth passage of the bill was an amendment that the three Baltimore County members of the committee considered introducing that would have sent the Lotto monies to the state's general fund for distribution. That could have affected how much money Prince George's and the city would receive.
But before the amendment could be introduced, Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg, whose bid for the Senate leadership was backed early by the Prince George's senators, walked into the committee room, took the three Baltimore County senators aside and discouraged them from introducing the amendment.
"I just want to make it clear that I'm not voting for this bill to help Prince George's County," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County). "I think it's time for them to get their act together and quit pressuring us to bail them out."
Nearby, Miller shrugged. "He's not wrong," he said. "We got the bill. That's what counts."