For what seemed to be the 88th time in the 90-day legislative session, State Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller (D-Prince George's) looked up and saw Prince George's County officials with their hands out for money.
Four County Council members were up early on the last Saturday morning of the legislative year, searching the General Assembly for county senators they could press into supporting yet another last-ditch measure to bail out the county budget.
"Then they started filtering into the Senate lounge," Miller said. "I had a lot to do, it was a very busy time and they kept thumbing me off the floor."
"So I told the trooper to ask these people to leave. I mean I just couldn't go back there because I was so besieged."
Freshman council member James Herl decided not to argue as the uniformed guard showed him the door. But he said that he was shocked.
"I didn't know who he was, but he was bigger than I was, so I left," said Herl. Also asked to leave were council members Hilda Pemberton and Richard Castaldi.
"It isn't like I hang out in the Senate lounge all the time," said Herl of his initiation into the art of lobbying the local delegation.
"We're all Democrats, we're all in this together," said Herl.
But if they were in it together, why had the three strongest bail out plans for the county failed? Last week, county officials, including the county executive and members of the school board, were placing the blame squarely on the Senate delegation, and in particular, on Miller.
When the session began in January, County Executive Parris Glendening had predicted that there would be a $30 million shortfall in the 1984 budget that would mean laying off 400 county workers. Glendening was pushing the General Asssembly to approve any combination of four new revenue sources for the county.
The first was an increase in the "piggyback tax" portion of the state income tax that is returned to the county, which would have raised $20 million.
The second measure would have allowed the county to raise the personal property tax rate--which primarily affects the county utilities because it's levied on large equipment--for a yield of $10 million.
The third proposal, the one that Herl and his colleages were trying to press at the last minute before Miller had them ejected, would have authorized the county to raise taxes levied on corporate users of telephone, electricity and natural gas services. This "utility tax" would also have raised $10 million.
But the only measure to pass muster in Annapolis was the bill to set up a new Maryland gambling game called Lotto. It is expected to yield $6 million to $8 million for the county next year, but nobody is willing to bet on it.
"It's a gamble--and that's not just a play on words," said Royal Hart, a former state senator and now chief lobbyist for the county government in Annapolis. "Nobody knows how much it will bring." Hart called it the least reliable of the four alternatives.
Glendening said the passage of Lotto has saved most of the county jobs that were on the RIF list. But the remaining shortfall from Glendening's budget "wish list"--now estimated at about $14 million--has left nearly every county agency, public employe union and public interest group in the lurch.
For the county's 6,000 public school teachers, the end of the session dashed their hopes for a cost-of-living increase next year. Other unionized county workers, including police and fire fighters, had long since given up hopes for raises.
For the school board it meant no extra teachers will be hired to relieve class sizes still swollen from last year's budget cut. Police and fire fighters were hoping to be able to hire a few new officers to improve deteriorating response times to crime and fires.
And the unions representing nearly 4,000 nonprofessional school employes were counting on funds from Annapolis to avert several planned payless furlough days and to restore cost-of-living increases they gave up last year in order to avoid layoffs.
To further those objectives, representatives and leaders from these groups were constant fixtures in Annapolis, lobbying the county's seven senators and 21 delegates. In the end, they gave the delegates high marks for their efforts, but blamed the senators for the ultimate failure of the big money bills.
Miller said that the "big spenders" in county government were "desperate" and less than understanding of his efforts. After all, he said, didn't he send flowers "to all the ladies" in the Montgomery County delegation to get them to switch their votes on Lotto? Didn't he threaten to punch out a Baltimore County senator over support for the same bill?
The fact was that every Prince George's bill faced an uphill fight from legislators around the state; those legislators justified their stands on the basis that Prince George's residents have steadfastly defended the TRIM property tax cap that keeps local tax rates lower than most other counties in the state.
Most observers said that the piggyback tax hike was dead before it started for that reason. The personal property tax measure was doomed because of an amendment insisted upon by Montgomery County that would have prevented the affected utilities from spreading the additional tax burden beyond Prince George's, even though Prince George's residents bear the costs of similar taxes imposed by Montgomery and Baltimore City.
According to lobbyist Hart, however, the measure died in part because, "there was a lack of support on the part of a few senators."
"The word was out that the bill should not get out of committee--and it didn't," Hart said.
Hart said that Miller and Sen. Thomas O'Reilly were "openly antagonistic" on the last-minute utility tax and were the only remaining obstacle to its passage. He blamed the efforts of the utility lobby.
"The utilities were on us like ants at a picnic down there," Hart said. "When they had some of our people thrown out of the lounge the utility company lobbyists were also in the lounge. I guess they Miller and O'Reilly just sided with the utilities."
"It's ridiculous," Miller responded to the charge. "Utility companies are very low on my list, they weren't talking to me in there."
Miller said that passing the utility tax at the last minute without public hearings just wouldn't be good government.
Miller said that the bottom line was that Glendening, the County Council and the school board were going to have to cut their budgets and heed the wisdom of the voters who backed TRIM. Otherwise, he said, he still counts the council members he threw out of the lounge among his friends.
"They were just acting out of desperation." he said. "I was acting from my personal agenda in Annapolis."