A last-ditch effort failed today to save one of two bills that Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening said are necessary to avoid cuts in services and layoffs. The legislation would have raised $10 million by imposing a personal property tax on certain businesses.
After an hour of often-angry debate, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted 7 to 6 to reject an amendment, agreed to by Montgomery County, that would have meant that Montgomery residents would have shared part of any utility rate increase caused by the new tax.
Without that amendment, the bill would have gone to the Senate floor with an amendment placed on it in the House of Delegates that required Prince George's ratepayers to pick up the entire increase. Prince George's officials said that version of the bill was unacceptable.
As expected, the second so-called Prince George's bail-out bill won approval from the full Senate. Tonight, after three hours of debate, the Senate passed the legislation creating the new lottery game Lotto by a 32-to-13 vote.
In committee deliberations on the property tax bill, Prince George's Sen. Frank J. Komenda first pleaded unsuccessfully for the Montgomery amendment, then asked that the measure be killed. Sen. Catherine I. Riley (D-Harford), who voted against the amendment, said, "Frank, if you kill this bill, you're out $10 million. You're slitting your own throats."
"I'd rather we slit our own throats than have you do it for us," an angry and shaken Komenda replied.
The committee then voted 8 to 5 to kill the bill.
The County Council could still try to impose the tax without legislative approval, but county officials said that is unlikely because such a move would inevitably result in a court case that would tie up the badly needed money anyway. The county could try for a last-second amendment to an Anne Arundel County bill that would give Anne Arundel the right to add a utility surcharge this year, but Komenda said that final card is not likely to be played because only four days remain in the session.
Glendening has said he needs $17.9 million to avoid any layoffs or cutbacks in services. The new Lotto lottery game, which the full Senate passed tonight, would bring in about $6 million in fiscal 1984, and $5.5 million more in fiscal 1985.
The Lotto bill, which was amended in the Senate, now goes back to the House of Delegates for concurrence, which is expected; the governor has said he will sign the measure.
Debate on the Lotto measure in the full Senate tonight was almost as acrimonious as earlier discussion in committee on the property tax. "This bill was born in deceit and it has been nurtured in desperation and intrigue," said Sen. John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County). "There comes a time when somebody's got to say no so that people like those in Prince George's County will do something to help themselves."
The county's fiscal woes are largely the result of a charter amendment, known as TRIM, that caps revenue from the county's real estate tax at the 1979 level. The fact that the Prince George's voters have twice approved the limit has been cited as a major reason why legislators from the rest of the state have been reluctant to help the county.
"I think there's an anti-Prince George's feeling here,' Komenda said after the committee's property tax vote. "I think the General Assembly wants the people in the county to bleed so they know about TRIM and will amend it." He also said he thinks that legislators from other areas want to be able to point to Prince George's and its TRIM amendment as a bad example.
Major opponents of today's amendment to the personal property tax measure were Sens. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel) and Coolahan, the Senate's two most vocal conservatives.
After Cade, Coolahan, Riley and Sen. Francis X. Kelly (D-Baltimore County) lectured Komenda on TRIM, a supporter of the amendment, Sen. Clarence W. Blount (D-Baltimore), interrupted.
"This is like when you're pregnant," he said. "The question isn't how you got pregnant, the question is what are you going to do about the pregnancy."
"Yeah," said Cade, holding the original bill in one hand and the amended version in the other, "and the question is, which of these abortions do you want?"
Finally, a frustrated Komenda said, "You know, I think if a Prince George's County senator said today was Thursday, April 7, we'd get an argument."
"On our legislative calendar, it's still April 6," Cade said, breaking the tension slightly.
Even after the amendment had died, Cade and Coolahan tried to get the bill voted to the floor, which would have forced the Prince Georgians to filibuster against their own bill. When Cade began arguing to vote the unamended bill out of committee, Sen. Tommie Broadwater Jr. (D-Prince George's) exploded.
"First you tell us we're doing it wrong, we can't do this, we should do that, all that stuff," Broadwater said. "Now you won't even let us kill our own bill."