Prince George's Executive Parris Glendening, moving to shore up support for an 11th-hour tax proposal, came here with a cadre of aides today to elicit commitments from members of the county's legislative delegation in preparation for a hastily arranged vote on Friday.
Meanwhile, opponents of the proposal, which would give the county authority to tax commercial use of energy and fuel, quietly worked to persuade colleagues to bar introduction of the bill.
"Did Glendening talk to you yet?" Del. Timothy Maloney asked Sen. Arthur Dorman as the two passed in a hallway of the State House in late afternoon. Dorman, from the same Laurel-based district as Maloney and a frequent Glendening critic, jokingly asked, "How should I vote? I follow your lead."
"Say 'no,' " Maloney said, breezing past.
The lightness of the exchange reflected the confidence of the tax measure's opponents, who criticized Glendening for seeking introduction of such a controversial issue with only three weeks left in the legislative session. They said that many legislators oppose the bill on substantive grounds, in the belief that additional funds are not necessary this year, while others said introducing a tax increase without benefit of a public hearing is unfair.
"We have a process here that requires public input and it's not being followed," said Del. William Bevan. "If he wants, he can come back next year and we'll discusss it."
Glendening, who met with the county's six black state representatives Tuesday night to seek their support, said in an interview today that he is following both his conscience and his "best public policy judgment" in seeking the energy tax, which he has tried to get passed in one form or another in each of his preceding two years as executive.
He said he waited to ask for the bill because he was seeking a consensus within the delegation, although it never developed. He also believed it necessary to introduce the measure after the eight state senators distributed a letter to civic associations and other constituents that, in Glendening's view, implied they could not work for additional aid because Glendening had not provided a vehicle.
"We were in an interesting position. On the one hand we had them saying, 'Sure we'd be supportive, but there's no bill.' On the other hand they're saying, 'We're not going to vote for it anyway, because they don't need the money,' " Glendening said. "Under those circumstances, I decided to call for the vote." Glendening and all members of the delegation are Democrats.
Glendening also distributed information today showing that Prince George's, alone among Washington metropolitan area jurisdictions and Maryland's larger counties, lacks authority to impose a fuel tax.
Other counties and Baltimore city tax both residential and commercial utility users at rates ranging from 0.5 percent to 12 percent, according to figures provided by the Maryland Association of Counties. Glendening noted that he would tax only commercial users and is seeking about 5 percent, which would raise about $10 million.
Despite the numbers, legislators said, the effort is not likely to be successful this year.
"There're no votes in the delegation. There're no votes on the floor. There're no votes in the Senate. There're no votes anywhere," said Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, chairman of the county senators.