To the accompaniment of oinks and squeals and jokes about swine flu shots, the House Appropriations Committe added $21 million last week to the proposed Maryland capital budget for the construction of government buildings in four counties represented by the chairman and three other members of the committee.
Three days later, in relative silence, this same panel slashed $8.5 million from the bond money earmarked for mortgages for low-income home buyers, housing rehabilitation and mortgage insurance for low-income houseing projects.
One member of the committee said those two actions were "classic cases of pork before people." The chairman of the committee, Del. John R. Hargreaves (D-Caroline County), said the decisions were "appropriate" and it was "absolutely ridiculous" to charge, as some of his own colleagues had, that the government multiservice buildings were pork barrel projects.
In either case the controversy surrounding the two votes provided an unusual glimpse into the workings of a committee that takes pride in its reputation as the studious, conservative watchdog of the state budget.
The story began at 5:30 p.m. last Tuesday, as the 24 members of the Appropriations Committee were nearing the end of a long voting session on each of the various projects Gov. Harry R. Hughes included in his 1980 capital budget. The items in that budget - for buildings and bridges and other state construction projects -- had all been reviewed in previous weeks by Appropriation's three subcommittees.
Then, without warning, Hargreaves' secretary began distributing copies of three amendments to the capital budget, none of which had been considered by the subcommittees. Although few members of the committee knew the amendments were coming, they were all marked "By the Appropriations Committee."
One was to add $2.65 million for the construction of a district court/multiservice center -- a building housing the regional branches of state agencies -- in Denton, the county seat of Hargreaves' own Caroline County.
A second was to add $8.1 million for a similar building in Bel Air, the county seat of Harford County, which is represented by Appropriations Committee member William H. Amoss.
The third was to add $1.87 million for a multiservice building in Queen Anne's County, represented on the committee by Del. R. Clayton Mitchell Jr.
The amendments drew an immediate reaction from those members of the committee who did not know they would be offered.
Some squealed like pigs.
Others oinked as best they could.
The swine flu shot joke passed around the room.
Del. Timothy Maloney, a freshman from Prince George's County, turned to his county colleague, Del. Frank Pesci, the chairman of the subcommittee that never saw the amendments, and muttered: "My God, I don't believe it."
"Believe it," answered Pesci. "Believe it."
Del. Constance Morella, a freshman Republican from Montgomery County, was more subdued. "We labored so hard making cuts," she said. And then, boom, it's gone. I didn't know there was such a thing as pork barrel day."
But another Republican, Del. Robert R. Neall, a veteran committee member from Anne Arundel County, was not taken by surprise. Neall, known in his county as "The Slasher" for his conservative approach to state finances, had an amendment of his own adding another $8.4 million for a multiservice center in his own county. After all, said Neall, Glen Burnie was originally slated to get the prototype multiservice building.
Neall's amendment was added to the other three, and in less than 20 minutes the House Appropriations Committee had added more than $21 million to the state's capital budget, pushing it to about $69 million -- $11 million more than Hughes had requested.
Although several members of the committee did not like the amendments, they all ended up voting for them.One veteran explained after-ward:
"The skids were greased. "It happens every year like that and there's no way to fight it. Hargreaves has it all lined up."
Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a freshman from Baltimore, said he was "disturbed" by the last-minute amendments, but felt he had to make a practical decision on them. "My dilemma is that the city has so many bond bills it has to get out of this committee," said Rawlings. "The individuals in this room are the key to important legislation. You can't antagonize them. But now, at least, I know how they play the game."
The premier player in the Appropriations "game" is Chairman Hargreaves, a stern, red-faced man whose voice resembles the crackling monotone of a railroad conductor calling out desinations through a malfunctioning microphone. He has been the chairman of the committee since its inception in 1971 and over the years has developed a loyal following of delegates who can be counted on to support his positions.
Hargreaves' positions are not hard to discern. He often begins a vote tally on a bill with the words, "I'll entertain a motion for a favorable [or unfavorable, whichever he prefers] report..."
Hargreaves was upset by the charges that the multiservice center amendments amounted to pork barrel legislation. "Pork barrel? I never heard that word before," he said, when a reported from the Hagerstown Morning Herald first asked him about it.
Later, in an interview, Hargreaves explained that the state multiservice buildings had been in the planning stages since 1971 and were ready and waiting to "go on line." He said his committee simply disagreed with the recommendation from the Hughes administration that the funding for them be put off until at least next year.
Gene Oishi, the governor's press secretary, said Hughes would not comment on the Appropriations Committee's actions until he reviews the capital budget later this week. One source in the administration said Hughes expected the committee action, but was not certain how far and how fast he wanted to go in building the state multiservice buildings, which were conceived during the administration of former governor Marvin Mandel.
By adding the $21 million to the capital budget, the committee pushed the total amount of bonds to be put out for sale by the state next year beyond the $150 million "debt affordability limit" -- an informal benchmark beyond which the fiscal experts here say the state should not go each year.
In an effort to drop below that $150 million limit, Hargreaves orchestrated the cuts in the bond programs for home mortgages for low-income home buyers, housing rehabilitation and mortgage insurance for low-income housing projects. This happened last Friday afternoon, again at the end of a voting session and again through amendments that were marked "By Appropriations Committee," even though few members of the committee knew anything about them.
"It was clear that the chairman was trying to make up for the earlier pork," said one veteran member of the committee. "What's an easier target than housing bonds for poor people"
Morella, one of 12 freshmen on the committee, said there was no time to adequately defend the original housing bond proposals "because we had no idea the amendments were coming. They were fired upon us at the last minute again."
As originally proposed by Hughes, the housing bonds would provide $10 million for home mortgages for lowincome home seekers who cannot get a mortgage in the private market, $2 million for the state's housing rehabilitation program and $5 million to insure mortgages for low-income housing projects. The committee amendments cut all three bond programs in half.
Hargreaves said the housing bond bills were slashed because "there had to be cuts to reach the debt affordability limit." Those bills were picked for the cuts, he said, because the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which oversees the projects, could not show that it needed the additional bonding authority this year.