ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 16 -- Democrats in Howard County's legislative delegation constitute a minority, but they were strong enough today to kill a request by the county's Republican executive for authority to impose a tax on hotel stays.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker had hoped to levy a hotel-motel tax and to avoid raising property taxes in fiscal 1992.

Only three of the county's nine legislators are Democrats. But they have a 2-to-1 edge in the county's three-member Senate delegation. When the two Democratic senators voted against introducing the Ecker's tax plan, they left the measure no Senate sponsor.

"This was a party vote. Definitely," said Del. Robert Kittleman (R). Democrats "don't want to help {Ecker} get rid of the mess he inherited at all. They want him to sit in it and stew."

Sen. Thomas Yeager (D) denied that the vote represented an attack on Ecker. He said he voted against a similar proposal by Ecker's predecessor, Democrat Elizabeth Bobo.

Yeager said he opposed the tax in part because the public is against any sort of tax increase. Other members echoed County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray (D-District 3) in saying the hotel-motel tax would hurt an industry already suffering from the recession.

"I think there's an alternative that doesn't involve imposing a hotel tax or raising property taxes," Yeager said. "He can cut spending."

Among the six-member House delegation, four of five Republicans voted for the tax. The House delegation's only Democrat, Virginia Thomas, and Republican Del. Donald Elliot voted against the plan.

A county memo dated Dec. 6 estimated that a 5 percent tax on hotel and motel stays would raise $900,000 in 1992, the near equivalent of what would be raised by a 2-cent increase in the county's property tax rate of $2.45 per $100 assessed value.

The memo noted that Howard County is the only county in the Washington-Baltimore area that does not tax hotel and motel stays. Prince George's County, for instance, imposes a 10 percent tax, and Montgomery County has a 5 percent levy.

Del. John Morgan (R) said he supported the hotel tax because the county is faced with drawing up a budget for 1992 that will be smaller than the budget approved for this year because of the region's economic recession.

"I think it is a straw man to say 'cut spending,' " Morgan said. "A vote against the hotel tax is a vote for a higher property tax."

Ecker, who has said a property tax increase is likely in 1992, said the delegation's vote will force him to consider deeper spending cuts. He declined to say whether he thinks the delegation's vote was partisan.