For Sen. Tommie Broadwater, it was "politics, baby - a trade." Two of his colleagues saw the same possibilities and together they helped pass a special interest bill that 24 hours earlier had been defeated for the fourth time this session.
Sen. Julian L. Lapides called it "the horror story of the year" and he galloped off the Senate floor, red-faced as his colleagues hooted him out the door.
Senate Majority Leader Roy N. Staten had traded and lobbled enough votes to resurrect a bill that will mean a $3 million loss to the state treasury and a $3 million gain to the vending machine industry. He did it by helping Broad-water and Sen. Clarence Mitchell III (D-Baltimore), with a minority contractor's bill and by promising support on a prison construction issue to Sen. Robert L. Douglass (D-Baltimore).
Staten won't admit to the bargaining. "I just said, 'come on, give one a vote.' If you're looking for anything else, you're wrong."
A few embarrased senators were also offering disclaimers yesterday and a lobbyist was denying any role in what was the clearest example this session of old-fashioned politicking for a special interest. "It's what we used to call a bellringer, a bill that rings the bell for someone's cash register. It's the kind of thing that disgusts me," said Lapides.
Within 24 hours. Staten and others swung eight votes to pass a bill that had failed to receive any approval from the Senate at any step of the legislative process. It was defeated twice in the committee, and twice on the floor of the Senate. When Staten rose to the floor asking for a third chance to pass his vending machine bill it was suggested he save himself further embarrassment. Few senators knew that Staten had bartered his influence to prove his boast: "I won't lose another bill this session."
The bill would exempt vending machine candy costly up to 30 cents from the state's 5 per cent sales tax. The industry argument goes this way: Five per cent of a 20 cent candy bar is one cent. Since machines can't return pennies, the industry must pay it out of its "own pocket" or raise the price of the candy to 25 cents. (They could also lower the price to 19 cents, it should be said) The bill would simply eliminate the problem by eliminating the sales tax.
"I want to tell you something," Broadwater explained. "Honestly, I don't know much about Staten's bill. But there are things I want down here . . . The night after the vote (Staten's fourth defeat) our 10 percent set aside for business for minority contractors came up. Staten helped me very much. He was very good. I changed to give Staten helped me very much. He was very good. I changed to give Staten my vote."
Mitchell gave much the same explanation: "It was a trade, pure and simple." He, Broadwater and Douglass were the three votes that changed overnight from "no" to "yes" on Staten's vending machine bill.
Douglass plans to use his vote for Staten's bill to insure that a proposed prison isn't built in East Baltimore. "I'm going around taking votes," he said. "You give a vote and you expect a vote in return."
Until the day of the vote-swiching (Thursday), the industry argument had not caught fire. The bill had been defeated in committee but brought to the floor though the use of a petition of senators, as allowed under the rules. It had also been defeated on the floor - the latest time by a 20-to-10 vote on Wednesday. Unit the vote-switching, it looked as though it would stay defeated.
Staten may have had some help in achieving the 24-hour miracle. Sen. John J. Garrity (D-Prince George's) said he was lobbied by Maurice Wyatt, aide to Acting Fov. Blair Lee III. "He asked me to change my vote but I wouldn't," Garrity said.
Wyatt denied lobbying on the bill and believes Garrity "misunerstood me." But Sen. Donald P. Hutchinson (D-Baltimore County) scoffs at Wyatt's modesty. "I saw him lobby a number of senators but that's all I can tell you."
Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly (D-Prince George's) first said he switched his vote to "yes" because he though taxing candy in a machine was wrong when carry-out food wasn't taxed. "We have to be consistent in our taxing," he said, even though he earlier had voted against an amendment that would have exempted all candy from one penny of the state sales tax.
Then Staten strolled by. O'Reilly put a hand on the majority leader's shoulder and bellowed another reason for his vote: "It's a vote for Roy. Yeh, a vote for Roy."
Already House delegates have seized on bill as an issue. Del. David B. Shapiro (D-Baltimore City) issued a statement against the Senate for its irresponsiblity in passing the measure that would mean "million of dollars of lost revenue." The bill which would exempt the candy from taxes for three years, would mean a loss of $3 million, then $3.4 million and finally $3.7 million in tax revenues over those years. Meanwhile, candy over the counter would still be taxed.
"It's not going to save money for the consumer. They're not going to reduce their candy prices in the machine and the state won't get their pennies back either," said Lapides. "For some of my colleagues it's a big game but when you're dealing with $3 million I'm not willing to help good old Roy line the pockets of vending machine operators."
After reporters stated asking questions about the vote-switching, some of the senators who switched to a favorable vote for the industry said they were considering switching back again.
"After my vote I started to think about it," said Sen. Edward Conroy (D-Prince George's.) "I decided it was a bad bill. It now appears that this is a windfall for people in industry who don't deserve it."
He and Sen. Howard Denis (R. Montgomery), who also switched, pleaded with Senate President Steny Hoyer to bring the bill back for yet another vote. Hoyer said the rules wouldn't allow it.