Gov. Harry Hughes and the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee began a game of chicken today over a $35 million across-the-board cut made by the panel in the governor's budget last week.
Hoping to pressure the committee to rescind the budget reduction when it meets tomorrow to reconsider the cut, Hughes sent out word that he will make no effort to fund local aid programs for Montgomery County and Baltimore unless two key senators from those jurisdictions reverse their votes.
At stake for Montgomery County is millions of dollars in transportation funds to improve two heavily used commuter feeder routes to I-270 in the Gaithersburg and Germantown areas, the county's major legislative priority this year. Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) had negotiated with Hughes to include at least a part of the $25 million sought by the county in a supplemental budget.
But today a Hughes spokesman said flatly that the governor will not introduce a budget supplement unless the Senate budget committee reverses its stand on the 2 percent "management cut" that would require state agencies to trim their spending by $35 million in salaries and fringe benefits. The governor's actions would be necessary since the legislature cannot increase the budget on its own.
"The administration was trying to do something to alleviate the Montgomery County road problem," said Hughes' press spokesman, Lou Panos. "But they don't intend to do it under the present circumstances."
Hughes' threat to offer no supplemental budget could have a similar impact on Baltimore, which this year is seeking an added $2.9 million in local police aid.
Caught in the middle of the squeeze play are Sen. Stewart Bainum Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore), both of whom voted for the budget cut that passed the committee on an 8-to-5 vote last week. Bainum and Lapides both said today they will not change their votes.
"No way, Jose," shouted Lapides as he emerged from a closed-door meeting with Steinberg.
"The governor is not going to be vindictive. He's running for U.S. Senate, he can't afford to be vindictive," he added in a reference to speculation that Hughes will seek a Senate seat after his term as governor is completed.
Lapides and Bainum argued that the "management cut" is a reasonable attempt to trim state spending.
"I voted for it because I thought the managers in state government can increase productivity," said Bainum. "I don't think the roads money is in danger."
But Steinberg, calling the reduction a threat to "the integrity of the budget system," said he agreed with Hughes' decision to punish Montgomery County and Baltimore unless the senators change their votes.
"I just wanted to put all the items on the table so everyone understood the implications," explained Steinberg after meeting with Bainum and Lapides.