Baltimore's state Senate delegation, prodded by their mayor, William Donald Schaefer, threatened today to derail the planned sale of Community Savings and Loan Association if Gov. Harry Hughes does not provide millions of dollars in additional aid to the city before the General Assembly adjourns in 12 days.
The decision by Baltimore senators to press for increased money for education, police and transportation received a cool reaction from Hughes. It also drew an unusually angry retort from Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg, a Baltimore County Democrat and a master of horsetrading himself who recently abandoned his opposition to the proposed sale of Community.
"They're playing with dynamite," said Steinberg, whose 47-member Senate includes nine senators from Baltimore.
"They're blind to the basic fact that if the Community deal is torpedoed, this state faces a significant cost for years to come."
Community S&L, of Bethesda, is one of several Maryland thrifts that have failed since last May, leaving the state liable for millions of dollars' worth of deposits. Hughes announced an agreement Monday to sell Community to the Pittsburgh-based Mellon Bank Corp., which would assume most of Community's liabilities.
The sale would free deposits of Community's more than 20,000 account holders -- most of them in the Washington suburbs -- that have been frozen since August.
The sale requires legislative approval of two bills pending in the Senate. Those bills and several others proposed by the Hughes administration could provide the vehicle for the city to squeeze more money from the already tight state budget, Baltimore senators said today.
"We have nine votes and we will look very closely at all of the governor's proposals," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat.
Pica was one of several city senators who met privately with Hughes for about 40 minutes this afternoon to appeal for his support for, among other things, a five-year, $335 million education aid program proposed by House of Delegates Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, another Baltimore Democrat.
"The city's receiving shabby treatment this year," said Pica. "Montgomery and Prince George's counties have been taken care of, but the governor has committed very little to the city in a year in which we need it most."
Several senators said the delegation members had discussed among themselves the possibility of derailing the Community sale. The threat was not expressly raised in the meeting with Hughes. Nor did it have to be, they added.
"It's an unspoken part of the agenda," said one city senator. "The threat is implied."
Schaefer, who had expressed his disappointment over Hughes' budget at a private dinner meeting with Baltimore senators Monday, carried his campaign for more state education money to Frederick today. "There's that syndrome I hate: next-year, next-year thinking," the mayor told the Frederick Rotary Club.
"There is no next year. There is no next month. There is no next week," he added, pounding the lectern. "If it's right, do it. And it's right on education."