House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings Jr., one of the General Assembly's most consistent advocates for the legalization of slot machines, has grown increasingly annoyed with House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) for standing in the way.

As the session entered its final days without a resolution to the controversial slots issue, Rawlings (D-Baltimore) accused Busch of "not telling the whole truth" about funding for the Thornton schools initiative, which promises to increase state aid to public schools by $1.3 million over the next five years.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has proposed funding Thornton in part with revenue from slot machines. Busch argues that slots will not be enough and is demanding that Ehrlich swallow a 1-cent increase in the sales tax along with slots.

"The sales tax will not fund Thornton either," Rawlings said. "It's slots and sales."

Clearly growing pessimistic that either slots or major new taxes will pass this session, Rawlings, who ran against Busch for the speakership, accused Busch of opposing slots for reasons of "personal interest and perceived political interest" rather than policy.

"Here's a speaker who came into the speakership because he was a person who got along with everyone and had no announced position on slots. Then after he was elected, he makes it a cause celebre," Rawlings said. "He talks about Ehrlich's bill. But my bill is always on the table, and it answers all his questions."

Busch "wants to win," Rawlings said. "I still believe the citizens lose in the end. The children of the state are going to lose in the end."

Wearing Their Sense of Humor

It's been a long and dusty road for the legislative budget committees. Faced with a projected shortfall of $2 billion, a fight over slot machines, a fight over budget cuts and a fight over taxes, committee members were looking a little weary as they met in conference last week to put the finishing touches on a $22.4 billion plan to balance the state budget.

Despite the long hours, lawmakers maintained their decidedly odd sense of humor, printing up buttons to sum up the session.

From House Appropriations: "Folks, we got big problems."

From Senate Budget and Taxation: "The first step to fiscal recovery is admit you have a problem."

And from House Ways and Means: "Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society."

But the most vivid representation of the stress the committees were under was displayed by staffers in the Senate budget committee: A four-foot inflatable doll printed to resemble the figure in Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

Sarbanes Hits 10,000 Votes

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) has become the 23rd U.S. senator to reach the 10,000-vote plateau, a milestone for Maryland's longest-serving senator.

While a member of Congress amassing voting records is a little like a student piling up attendance records in school -- it's nice, but nobody outside your immediate family might care -- the threshold does speak to the five-term incumbent's longevity.

Sarbanes, 70, joined 11 other active senators to cast 10,000 official votes for bills, resolutions or procedural matters. After 27 years in the Senate, Sarbanes ranks seventh in seniority among Democrats and is tied for 12th overall.

The vote came March 21 on an amendment by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) to the 2004 budget resolution that would have cut $2 billion from President Bush's tax cut plan to pay for $1 billion in community-oriented policing and $1 billion in deficit reduction. Sarbanes voted yes, but the measure failed in the Republican-led Senate, 52-48.

"Reaching this historic milestone is just the latest remarkable accomplishment in what has been, by anyone's standards, a remarkable American success story," Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said of his colleague on the Senate floor. "I look forward to seeing him cast a few thousand more votes."

Sarbanes thanked senators, his staff and family and expressed his "deep appreciation to the people" of Maryland.