A year ago at this time, Gov. Harry Hughes had just seen his proposal for a 5 percent income tax surcharge trashed by the legislature, the General Assembly had seized control of the budget process, and 5,000 public employes had descended on the state capital to scream bloody murder over legislation restricting their pensions.
What a difference a year makes.
With the 1985 General Assembly reaching the halfway point -- tomorrow is the 45th day of the 90-day session -- legislators, reporters and various hangers-on are still waiting for something to happen.
Thus far, the legislature has enacted just one piece of legislation, a measure to exempt elderly Marylanders from paying state income taxes on their Social Security benefits. The bill was so wildly popular that Del. Paul Muldowney (D-Washington) compared opposing it with "voting against penicillin."
Other than some minor skirmishing over the issue of whether Baltimore should get a new sports stadium, and a short-lived fuss over prison policy, the 1985 session has largely lacked the kind of excitement and controversy that legislators and reporters depend on to make their annual 90-day sentences worth the effort.
How bad is it?
Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's): "It's so boring I'm reading the sports section before Metro."
Del. Patricia Sher (D-Montgomery): "It's so boring that last week every bill our committee had we'd already heard year after year."
Del. Thomas Mooney (D-Prince George's): "It's about as exciting as watching turtles race through peanut butter."
And what has been the most significant accomplishment of the first half of the 1985 session?
Maloney: "Fran O'Brien's hasn't burned down."
Sher: "Other than the mandatory seat-belts bill dying, I can't think of anything."
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore): "We've straigtened out D and C parking lots. D came before C, but we've straightened out the alphabet now."
Muldowney: "You're asking me a rhetorical question."
Have faith, legislative fans, the second half can only get better. Here are some things to watch during the next 45 days:
The capital budget: Because Hughes hogged virtually all of the $220 million allowed for capital spending, legislators are looking for projects to cut so they can have enough money to bring home some "pork" to their districts.
The prime candidate is a proposed $38 million building for the shock trauma unit in Baltimore. The largest single item in the capital budget, it is an inviting target, especially in a year when the legislature is trying to cut health care costs.
The governor's health care package: Though the legislature won't even finish its hearings on the seven bills until today, the cost containment package appears in trouble. Look for Hughes to lose at least a couple of those bills, and the legislature to drastically re-write others.
Abortion: If the House passes the more liberal Medicaid funding rules proposed by Hughes -- no sure bet -- expect a granddaddy of a filibuster in the Senate.
Gambling: If Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph E. Owens (D-Montgomery) gets his bill to restrict gambling by fraternal organizations out of the House, watch how quickly state Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) kills it in the Senate. Miller is looking to even the score against Owens, whose committee dispatched the seat-belt bill one day after its hearing.
The Legislative Follies: Can Del. Gerard Devlin (D-Prince George's), in putting together the General Assembly's annual end-of-the-session spoof show, find anything to laugh about?
C'mon, Harry, how about a tax proposal to liven things up a bit?