The honeymoon is likely to be short for the 66 new members of the Maryland General Assembly who will be sworn in here Wednesday. Just one week after the new session starts, they will get official word from Gov. Harry Hughes about the topic that will dominate the 90-day session: Overcoming a $133 million budget deficit.
How the new legislators, who comprise more than one-third of the 188-member assembly, deal with Hughes' expected stark budget, and his possible program cuts and tax increases, is critical to resolving the state's troubling economic picture.
"This should be the watershed year of the four-year term because of the sifting out process," said House Majority leader Donald B. Robertson (D-Montgomery). "After this we'll know what the new people are like."
The 1983 legislature includes 50 new delegates and 16 new senators who will be competing with their more established colleagues for political positions. There are more blacks and women, fewer lawyers, and only 23 Republicans (17 in the House, 6 in the Senate) in the new assembly.
There also is a new lieutenant governor, J. Joseph Curran Jr., who is anxious to prove that he is more effective than his ousted predecessor, Samuel W. Bogley, and the Senate has a new president, Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County).
Even though this is an off-election year, politics will never be far from the thoughts of many state leaders, some of whom already are looking ahead to other offices.
Second-term House of Delegates Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) already is in a private race for governor in 1986 against Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, and Hughes, who looks to heighten his national profile during his second and final term as governor, is possibly eyeing a race for the U.S. Senate in 1986.
Although politics will color all that goes on during the three-month session, it is Hughes' two-volume budget book, its cuts and suggested taxes, including possible increases in cigarette, alcoholic beverage and property levies, that is likely to dominate debate.
"This session will be a paradox," said Steinberg. "When you have a lot of money there's more pulling and tugging than in an austere year like this. We all know there's a wolf at our door. That means we should be fairly harmonious because we all recognize that we all have common problems."
Said House Speaker Cardin: "If this was last year, a two-cent property tax increase would be controversial, but this year it's not. It's all relative, a matter of degree. Any tax increase will be controversial but if the alternative is cutting programs, then it won't be controversial. There are few easy solutions in a situation like this."
In addition to possible new taxes, the perennial budget battle over providing Medicaid-funding of abortion is expected to be sharper this year because of the presence of the new legislators who will be voting on the question for the first time. Hughes has already indicated he will not propose raises for state employes and there is speculation that he will slightly cut aid to local subdivisions.
All of this will come at a time when local governments, hard-pressed as well, will push for more money from the legislature. Prince George's County, especially, will try to win more funds to overcome a $31 million projected deficit.
A major part of the budget problems this year was caused by spiraling pension costs. Hughes and legislators thought the costs had been brought under control three years ago when a controversial pension reform plan was enacted but the new, alarming figures are expected to make the pension system once more a cause for debate.
The budget crunch was perhaps best summed up by Ejner J. Johnson, the governor's chief of staff, shortly after Hughes received the latest round of revenue estimates last month: "Budget problem? We don't have a budget problem. Anyone who comes in gets the same answer from now on--No."
Despite the budget problems, Cardin and Steinberg said they want the legislature to develop programs to create jobs, although both admit that finding remedies will be difficult since the problems are caused by national factors.
Traditionally, fewer bills are submitted for consideration during the first session of a new term than in succeeding years, and this year looks to be no exception, according to Carvel Payne, head of the assembly's legislative reference department.
Of the bills already submitted, Payne said, more than one-third are focusing on criminal sentencing.
The Stephanie Roper Committee, formed after the killers of a 22-year-old college student were given sentences that could make them eligible for parole in 12 years, will push to tighten those laws.
Another grass roots group that proved effective here one year ago, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), is expected to seek further legislation aimed at keeping drunk drivers off the road. Legislative leaders and Hughes said they expect the state to pass laws to come into compliance with new tough federal drunk driving legislation.
Labor unions, which played a significant role in giving the new legislature's pro-labor cast, are hoping to collect on a major campaign promise from Hughes: Formation of a state labor department.
Hughes said he expects to set up the department but acknowledged that "we've got some selling to do" to win legislative support. Other than the labor department and possibly gun control legislation, Hughes said he expects to submit a "modest" administration package of bills.
Labor is also hoping to win an old battle with the legislature over collective bargaining for state employes, who cannot now organize into unions. The most controversial labor proposal would create a bill of rights for the unemployed, guaranteeing them help on overdue mortgages and utility bills.
Labor is hoping to lower the state's 24 percent interest ceiling, enacted last session, a move that will set up a clash with the banking industry which, as in the past, will push for total deregulation. Legislative leaders said, however, that the banks are not likely to find much sympathy for their cause this year.
As grim as this session may be, legislators and Hughes expect it to be a mere warm up for 1984. During that session, all of the aid formulas will come up for review, a suit over education funding is expected to be decided prior to the session, and long-term legislative initiatives on the pension system will be debated.
The chairmen of the assembly's two major money committees hope to get through this year quietly without seeking major solutions. "I hope we don't solve all our problems this year because that would be legislating by crisis," said Del. R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent), the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "We need to get through this year and then find long-term answers next year."
Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Budget and Tax Committee, sounded the same theme: "We've got to find $133 million somewhere and until we do that, talking about a lot of other things just doesn't make sense. One way or the other, though, next year's going to be a real corker."