Prince George's County delegates delivered County Executive Parris Glendening both a resounding political defeat and a public tongue lashing today when they refused him enough votes even to begin debate on a bill to authorize a county tax on commercial use of energy and fuels.
With less than three weeks remaining in this legislative session, the rules required that at least two-thirds of the 23-member delegation agree to permit introduction and discussion of the bill. But only six lawmakers, all but one members of the black caucus, voted for introduction, with 12 members voting against, three absent, and the chairman and one other member not voting.
Glendening had estimated that the tax on businesses' consumption of energy would have provided the financially strapped county about $10 million, most of it to be used on schools. But delegates questioned the timing of the tax, particularly since county residents amended the county's property tax ceiling last November to allow the collection of additional property tax revenue.
In a prolonged and unusually tense exchange before the generally collegial delegation, Timothy Maloney (D-Beltsville) criticized the county executive yesterday for trying to "whipsaw" the delegation into approving the politically unpopular energy tax. Maloney interrupted Glendening when Glendening tried, after the proposal's defeat, to explain why he sought the measure to begin with.
"We cannot have this kind of last-minute charade," Maloney said as Glendening, standing less than three feet away, looked hard in Maloney's direction.
"It's no way to work cooperatively with the delegation," Maloney continued, his voice gradually rising. "This delegation will not be whipsawed into passing measures they don't want," just so Glendening would not have "to say no to people to balance the budget."
Maloney, a leading member of the House Appropriations Committee and overseer of a large portion of the state's budget, said, "We've got our budget to balance. We pay our employes less than the county pays its employes; our facilities are in worse condition than the county's facilities . . . . Somehow the state manages to balance its budget. We don't run down to Washington and try to lay the blame at Mr. Reagan's feet and say, 'It's all your fault, it's all your fault.' "
Maloney concluded by telling Glendening that the delegation wanted to work cooperatively with him "away from the newspapers."
Glendening, flanked by aides, a school board member, and phalanx of county employe union leaders who came to Annapolis to support the energy tax, responded in the meeting by saying he had made his desire for the measure known as early as December, in briefings for the whole delegation and smaller breakfasts and dinners throughout the session. He decided not to seek introduction of the measure formally until this week, he said, "because legislative leaders consistently said, 'hold it.' "
He added that though he appreciated everyone's work to get additional revenue, "If it's working so well, how come every jurisdiction up here has a nonproperty tax source of revenue except us ? And the answer is, we do not get, no matter when it's introduced, the same kind of consideration for the same kinds of bills. I think it's an affront to the county."
Today's vote capped several days of intense lobbying by supporters and opponents of the measure, with Glendening meeting with the black caucus Tuesday night, the state senators meeting with the County Council the following day, and Glendening and the senators holding a final, closed summit meeting early this morning.