The Maryland House of Delegates approved two measures tonight that would facilitate the planned sale of Community Savings and Loan Association to a Pennsylvania bank-holding company, a transaction that Gov. Harry Hughes described as "very close" to completion.
Hughes waited in the House members' lounge tonight until the delegates left for the evening to inform Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) that he was "optimistic" about the sale of Community to the giant Mellon Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh, according to Cardin.
Cardin added that Hughes had called a meeting for Saturday to discuss key elements of the proposed transaction with the speaker and State Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg (R-Baltimore County), a sign that the governor may be in a position to announce the long-pending deal by early next week.
The sale of Community, a Bethesda-based thrift association that has been crippled since last fall, is crucial to Hughes' strategy for ending Maryland's 10-month savings and loan crisis.
The governor's administration also is awaiting federal approval of the sale of the distressed First Maryland Savings and Loan of Silver Spring to a large Baltimore thrift.
This morning, at his weekly news conference, Hughes pointedly declined to respond directly to a reporter's question about progress on the Community and First Maryland transactions, saying he would do so only "when I have something specific to say."
For months, Hughes has made many reassuring comments about the two pending sales, saying that both were near fruition.
Aides to the governor went so far as to promise a skeptical Cardin this week that the final terms of the deals would be ready for Hughes' review by Friday.
The House voted by lopsided margins tonight to give the governor the legal tools to complete the sale of Community and First Maryland, which have a combined 62,000 depositors.
On a 116-to-5 vote, delegates approved an administration bill that would establish a shield of "sovereign immunity" to protect the state from legal action in the savings and loan crisis.
The bill also would facilitate the sale of First Maryland by allowing the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund to make cash payments to and exchange assets with an institution such as Yorkridge-Calvert Savings and Loan of Baltimore, the leading suitor of First Maryland.
A second bill, approved 119 to 4, is crucial to the proposed Community sale because it would allow Mellon to acquire the prime insured deposits at the Bethesda association. The bill also would enable the Pennsylvania bank to acquire other bank holding companies in Maryland this year.
Both bills are pending in the Senate.