The Maryland House of Delegates this morning overwhelmingly approved legislation hastily forged in a joint conference committee that would permit Chase Manhattan Corp. to acquire three Maryland savings and loan associations.
The House action came after Gov. Harry Hughes delivered a highly emotional plea to the General Assembly to break a five-day deadlock on the issue and approve the transaction that could ease Maryland's severe thrift industry crisis and free frozen accounts for about 70,000 depositors.
The House vote, 124 to 6, came shortly after 3 a.m. as the Senate president and administration aides struggled to round up enough votes to push the measure through the Senate.
Calling the thrift crisis "worse than Ohio's," Hughes had said, "I implore you, ask you, beg you, plead with you to act on this legislation tonight. The fiscal integrity of the state is at stake." Hughes used his speech to a joint session of the state Senate and House of Delegates to announce new concessions that later seemed to appease some opponents of the controversial Chase transaction.
A conference committee that included Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County), House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) and four other ranking legislators met after the Hughes address, and about 1 a.m. today the panel crafted compromise legislation aimed at salvaging a transaction that has taken a beating in recent days in the Senate.
"You reach a point where you have to look at the big picture," said an obviously fatigued Steinberg, who engaged in a final push to collar enough votes for the compromise.
Earlier, eight hours of intense negotiation Monday had left Steinberg and Cardin unable to reach agreement on legislation that would permit the sale of Merritt Commercial Savings and Loan of Baltimore, Friendship of Bethesda and Chesapeake of Annapolis.
In an attempt to break that deadlock, Hughes at 10:30 p.m. Monday announced to the legislature that Merritt owner Gerald S. Klein had agreed to share with the state government any profits he receives from several real estate properties he would be allowed to keep under his agreement with Chase.
Even with that concession, Hughes may not have satisfied many Senate critics. Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel) likened the arrangement to "profit-sharing with Pancho Villa."
In addition, Hughes said that Friendship, which Chase wants to acquire, had agreed to pay $4 million into a thrift industry insurance fund during a four-year period. Chesapeake, the third thrift Chase hopes to acquire, would place $380,000 -- 10 percent of its purchase price -- into the insurance fund.
The offers by Friendship and Chesapeake were made to appease some legislators who have opposed a key part of the Chase transaction in which the Maryland insurance fund would contribute $25 million to Chase as a way of offsetting any loss Chase incurred by taking over Merritt.
The conference committee ended its work with the Senate relenting to the demand of the House and Chase that the state pay the bank holding company $25 million from a thrift industry insurance fund. At 2 a.m. today, Hughes, Steinberg and top administration officials mounted an intensive lobbying effort to round up votes in the Senate, while the House moved to pass the compromise legislation immediately.
House and Senate leaders also reached an accord under which the state government would retain its legal right to file a civil action against Klein to recover any losses incurred at Merritt through mismanagement.
Monday night, senators were greeted by a thunderous ovation as they entered the House chamber for the joint session, but criticism lingered about the Chase transaction.
"This is theater of the absurd," declared Sen. John N. Bambacus (R-Allegany) minutes before Hughes' speech.
Bambacus and several other Senate Republicans and Democrats who dominate that chamber have stalled the Chase transaction for the last five days, and their opposition stiffened Monday, with some senators calling openly for a filibuster to scuttle the deal once and for all.
Senate negotiators, led by Cade, had insisted that the state government reduce the $25 million payment insisted on by Chase to $11.3 million.
Cardin and members of his House negotiating team demanded that the legislature accede to Chase's full demand, saying that to do otherwise was "gambling" with the future of Maryland's already-crippled savings and loan industry.
Some predicted that the Chase transaction, which has been bruised in recent days by complete reversals of opinion on Steinberg's part, was dead. "The ball game's over, and I'm not talking about Green Bay and Chicago," said Sen. John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County).
The continuing impasse prompted several legislators to speculate among themselves about the political motivations of opponents to the transaction.
In his public pronouncements about his opposition to the Chase transaction, Steinberg has repeatedly said he was attempting to take into account the demands of depositors who want their money as well as those of taxpayers who do not want the state to pay anything to Chase.
But senators and delegates, with hours on their hands, openly questioned the motives of Steinberg and the other major actors in the drama unfolding here. "What's the hidden agenda?" wondered Charles J. Ryan, the Democrat who chairs the Prince George's delegation in the House.
One unseen presence felt by some was that of the once-powerful Maryland banking lobby, which was badly defeated this year when Citicorp persuaded the General Assembly to approve a measure giving it and other out-of-state financial institutions broad new powers to do business in the state.
The senators who most vocally opposed the Citicorp bill last winter pounced on the Chase deal. Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly (D-Prince George's), who attacked Citicorp as "the junkyard dog" of American banking, helped to lead the charge in the Senate against the Chase transaction.
Similarly, Steinberg, the mastermind behind the Senate's approval of the Citicorp legislation, has been the pivotal player in the sometimes bitter wrangling over the Chase deal. Steinberg, anxious to win concessions from Chase earlier in this legislative session, was pressing for passage of a bill that would effectively close the commercial window in the Citicorp law and force banks entering Maryland to acquire an ailing savings and loan association.
With that proposal alive in the General Assembly and some senators still fighting the Chase deal, "The Maryland banks are sitting back with big smiles on their faces," said Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's).
There were other, somewhat murky signs that the politics of 1986 was influencing events, especially in the Senate.
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), for instance, has not publicly said his opposition to the Chase deal has its roots in his antipathy for Hughes -- who may run for the Senate next year -- or in his admiration for Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who is running for governor. But Miller's colleagues say the death of the Chase transaction would neatly serve the senator's political agenda.