The Maryland General assembly wound up the 1977 session tonight, producing in 90 days substantially increased taxes but no major new programs for the state's taxpayers.
More than any Maryland legislature in recent years, this one was preoccupied with raising money. The sales tax was increased from four to five cents on the dollar. The tax paid to get a title for a car went up, as did the tax paid for titling a boat. The tax employers pay for unemployment insurance also was raised.
Contingent on the governor's signature, small loan companies were permitted in this session to raise their interest rates. Mortgage lenders won an extension of the 10 per cent interest ceiling on their loans, and some 18,000 Social Security recipients will be forced to pay an extra $35 a year to remain qualified for Medicaid.
After seven years of budgets balanced by Gov. Marvin Mandel's genius for finding one-time windfalls, accounting changes, and other gimmicks to avoid raising taxes, legislative leaders found themselves in a bind this year.
"Considering the handicap that we had - the necessity to increase taxes without providing additional benefits to the public - it's been a successful session," said DeL. Benjamin Cardin (D-Baltimore), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The expense of the session stands in ironic contrast to the opening day pronouncements of legislators who said they had come to Annapolis this year with one thought in mind - to avoid [WORD ILLEGIBLE] increase by cutting Mandel's $3.9 [WORD ILLEGIBLE] budget.
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] failure to make major cuts, said [WORD ILLEGIBLE] John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County) left many legislators with a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of "utter frustration" at "the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of the legislature to come to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] with the runaway government spending, to say 'No' to the agency heads, the special interests."
The only good thing about the session from Coolahan's point of view is that "both Houses are about in a state of revolution with the executive over taxes. If anything good came of this year, it was the signs of independence in the legislature. The House (of Delegates) was almost equally divided over the spending measures."
Late-tonight, the fates of some major pieces of spending and tax legislation, including a bill authorizing $12 million in increased school aid to Maryland's counties, were still in doubt as senators threatened last-minute filibusters on them.
The education aid bill would be financed by yet more new taxes and the filibusterers were making one final effort to take their protests over the new levies beyond speech-making.
Opponents of a new prison for Baltimore on the site of the abandoned Continental Can factory were also threatening a filibuster.
The legislature's reluctance to pass new tax measures was evident throughout the session. Botht he budget and the major new taxing measure, a 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax, were defeated on their first votes in the Senate, only to be approved on reconsideration.
While there was opposition to the budget and taxes in the House, the focus of this year's legislative unrest was in the Senate. The upper body suffered from what some saw as a crisis of leadership this year, as Senate President Steny H. Hoyer (D-Prince George's), a gubernatorial candidate politically unable to coerce his fellow senators, was forced to move several of Mandel's unpopular proposals through the Senate.
The task of pushing Mandel's bills through the legislature would normally fall to Senate Majority Leader Roy N. Staten (D-Baltimore County). But the red-faced, gravel-voiced Staten, in his 24th year in the legislature, is nowhere near as active as he was in his heyday, and is believed to have coasted through this year in anticipation of a gubernatorial appointment next year.
"The Senate was poorly led," said Coolahan, who became Hoyer's nemisis. He predicted the rise inthe near future of a new generationof Senate leaders. "That's not a reflection of Hoyer himself. He unfortunately takes the blame for some problems inflicted on him by the governor. And the majority leader was weak."
Even before he was hospitalized a week ago today, Mandel appeared to be relaxing his grip over the legislative branch, although it may have been move the result of a lack of interest rather than fading influence.
When push came to shove onthe budget, however, Mandel went to work on friendly Senators and within a couple days, after legislators had made the ritual "trip upstairs" to the governor's office, seven votes were turned around, and the budget was approved.
When it came time to turn similar tricks in the House, Mandel was by then a patient at Prince George's General Hospital. But his absence was not critical, as Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III stepped into the void, relishing the challenge.
Lee coaxed, cajoled and threatened, and with each thrust, aided the forward progress of Mandel bills, most notably the operating budget, the sales tax and, finally today, the capital budget.
All the legislation approved is subject to gubernatorial veto. All the tax measures and virtually all the spending measures were backed by Gov. Mandel, however, and he is certain to sign them.
Traditionally, legislators choose a year like this to raise taxes because the next election is far enough away that they hope voters might forget the actions.
Similarly, many of the tactics of legislators fighting had against tax increases are often associated with campaigns they hope to wage for higher office.
Coolahan, for example, expects to run for Baltimore county executive or governor in 1978.
The House reversed itself today and approved two companion bills to the increase in the general sales tax. The lower chamber voted to raise the excise tax on the sale of new cars and boats from 4 to 5 per cent. The two bills., which will raise a total of $23 million, had been defeated by close votes Saturday night.
Helping reverse the decision today was the reading by Del. Benjamin Cardin (D-Baltimore) of what Del. Charles A. Docter (D-Montgomery) complained was a "Christmas list of goodies" that would be lost if the two measures were not enacted.
Cardin said taxes on the sale of new cars are used "directly in road construction." He then read a list of road projects that would be scrapped without the legislation, including improvements on Maryland Rtes. 97 and 355 in Montgomery County and U.S. Rt. 1 and Maryland Rte. 214 in Prince George's County.
The only tax relief offered by the 1977 session was in the area of property taxes. The legislature voted to limit the effect of assessment increases to 15 per cent in a single year. It also gave counties the authority to remove some inflationary increases from property tax bills and approved a bill that would force counties to break out for property taxpayers the actual effects of inflation each year.
Financial institutions will also take a greater bite out of consumer pocketbooks because of legislation passed this year. After years of efforts, small-loan companies secured legislative approval to raise their interest rates. A change that will result in gains for some consumers but losses for others.
The increase from 8 per cent to 10 per cent in the ceiling for home mortgage interest rates, approved on a temporary basis three years ago, was extended to 1981 this year. The wealthy depositor who borrows money with demand loans will also pay 2 per cent more interest because of legislation approved this year.
About 18,000 Medicaid recipients who received Social Security benefits will be forced to pay about $35 each - the amount by which Social Security increases since 1971 have made their income exceed the Medicaid limit - to qualify for medical assistance.
Punishment for crime became one of the major issues in this year's session. The legislature approved a billthat will bring th death penalty back to maryland after a four-year absence. But the bill includes a provision that many legislators feel dramatically decreases the chance that anyone will ever be executed under the bill.
The new death penalty law, which is almost certain to be signed by Gov. Mandel, provides for a two-tiered trial, with one stage to determine guilt or innocence, and a second stage to decide if capital punishment is the proper penalty.
The death penalty bill was the subject of a filbuster in the Senate this year. Another came on another corrections-related issue, the construction of a prison in east Baltimore.
The prison propsal upset the residents of the two neighborhoods that about the site of the planned 890-inmate facility, and created a stir here because it would provide a million-dollar profit for a politcally well-connected developer.
The prison would be built on land owned by Morton Sarubin, a developer who is a cousin of Irvin Kovens, Mandel's political patron and chief fund raiser. Sarubin paid $1.9 million for the abandoned Continental Can factory where the prison will be built; the state will pay Sarubin $2.9 million for the land.
The prison appropriation - still being considered tonight - was the subject of an intermittent 3 1/2-day filibuster by Sens. Robert Douglass and Clarence Mitchell, both Baltimore Democrats. The project was approved by the House today.
Continental Can was the lead item in Mandel's $50 million corrections construction program, which includes prisons at Jessup and Hagerstown. The legislature also approved a strengthening of the state parole department, in an effort to keep down the number of persons sent to jail.
In anotheraction today, the Senate enacted a billthat will encourage state colleges and universities to allow students to use credit cards to pay for their educational expenses. The measure allows the colleges to charge to students the credit card fees usually paid by retailers who accept the cards.
The major issue facing local delegations this year was an unsuccessful proposal to build a convention center in Prince George's County with $20 millionof state money and $15 million private money.
The proposal was unique in that the developer who owned the land, William J. Levitt Jr., would construct the center, deed it over to the county, and then operate it. It was also filled with sensitive political issues sinceth idea was conceived by Peter F. O'Malley, Levitt's attorney and a county political kingpin who ran the successful campaigns of most of the county legislators in Annapolis.
Most of the county delegates lobbied heavily for passage of the proposal but it died in committee. Not stopping there, the delegates openly tried to trade votes to win passage on the floor of the House.
The plan backfired. The delegation lost the vote and antagonized most of the House leadership by trying to go against a committee report on an unpopular issue.
Both Montgomery and Prince George's Counties did pass through bills that will give their local school boards a nonvoting student member.
Prince George's also sponsored a bill enacted today that will give the county a new "omnibus" taxing authority. Essentially this means that the county can pass nuisance taxes not levied by the state or forbidden by teh county charter.
The omnibus authority will be used in the budget to levy a 15 per cent tlephone usage tax.
Montgomery County delegates sponsored a bill passed today that will require all Deoxyribonucleic acid - DNA - research projects to be registered with the state secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene. The bill was a response to the propsed federal research on DNA at the Ft. Detrick in Frederick, Md., and at the NIH inBethesda.
Sponsored by Democratic Delegates Marilyn Goldwater, Nancy Kopp and John X. Ward, the bill also requires that any such facilities comply with National Institutes of Health guidelines and mandates the creation of a Bio-Hazards Committee.
The handicapped won major legislation this year including their own state commission. Under a bill sponsored by Prince George's County Democratic Del. Frank B. Pesci and Kay G. Bienan, an Office for Coordinating Handicapped Services will be established within the executive branch this year.
A controversial measure that won approval today is the changing of state zoning rules to allow group homes for the mentally retarded in residential communities. In debates on the floor, the proponents evoked the need for basic civil rights of the handicapped who until now had to receive special approval from zoning boards before they could live together in a community.
Although major revision of the state's ineffective public campaign financing bill was projected early in the session, there will be limit of $2,500 ($100 in cash) on what anh individual or group may spend to promote or defeat a question on the ballot, because of another bill enacted tonight. The old campaign law did not deal with ballot questions. The limit for contributions to candidatesss remains at $1,000 ($100 in cash).
The money crunch also resulted in the passagge of some legislation without the money to carry is out.
One nesuch proposal dealt with farmland preservation,, an idea that has kicked around the General Assembly for more than a decade. The House passed and sent to the governor today legislation that sets up machinery for the state to buy 25-year easements from farmers to help keep the land in farm use.
Without the legislation, warned Del. Charles A. Docter (D-Montgomery) "land sepculators are benefitting more than farmers from the relatively low tax assessment on farms. The legislation, however, provides no money to purchase the easements, but supporters hope to get that vital step next year.
One of the more emotional issues before the assembly this year, a bill requiring doctors to notify parents before porforming an abortion on girls under 118, slipped through the House without debate, by a vote of 81-11.