Neall Seeks Changes In Council Campaign Finance Bill

February 24, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

County Executive Robert R. Neall has opposed a statewide bill that would bar County Council members from voting on zoning requests by campaign contributors.

Neall has asked the the county's 13-member House delegation to remove Anne Arundel from the bill proposed by two Prince George's County lawmakers. Mid-way through a session dominated by the abortion issue and budget deficits, Friday's request was the first for the new Neall administration.

The bill "sort of reminds me of something Freudian," Myron Wotring, Neall's legislative liaison, told county delegates Friday. "If youremember your Psychology 101 class, Mr. Freud considered men and women basically evil. I hope you will not characterize any members of our County Council, or any other legislators, in that respect."

Wotring, who sought the delegation's support to amend the bill, said it "unjustifiably assumes a County Council member's vote can be bought" and discriminates against developers, effectively forcing them out of the political arena.

"The bill is ill-conceived," said Wotring, noting that the whole council could be disqualified if all seven members received contributions from the same developer.

Wotring said existing ethics and disclosure laws are adequate. But Delegate Marsha G.Perry, D-Crofton, disagreed.

"In the last comprehensive rezoning,the public interest was not served," Perry said. "Developers had access to County Council rooms that the public did not have access to.

"Deals were cut in the back room."

She said nothing may have been illegal, but the public has perceived otherwise.

"I'm not accusing any council member or all of the council," Perry said. "I'm saying, 'How do we answer the public perception?' "

"This is a good bill," Delegate John Gary, R-Millersville, said. "I don't know why anybody in public office would be afraid of this bill."

But others argued lawmakers can accept campaign contributions without political strings.

"I can make a decision using my own conscience and not based on who bought a ticket to my bull roast," Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Brooklyn Park, said.

Prince George's lawmakers proposed a similar billlast year, which passed the Senate but failed in the House Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee.

The House delegation will vote on Neall's proposed amendment Friday.

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Forty-five days into the session,lawmakers said they were pleased the abortion issue isbehind them. But, they said, most of their work is yet to come.

"The halfway point snuck up on me this year," Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, said. "I guess people have really been preoccupied bythe war, the economy and those budget deficits. Now, half the session is over and 95 percent of the work is still in committee."

"It'sa little scary that we've been here half the session, considering the workload we have ahead of us," Delegate Victor Sulin, D-Severn, said.

Lawmakers passed a law Feb. 18 guaranteeing women nearly unlimited access to abortions. But the state budget, as well as proposals to ban assault weapons, restructure taxes and place statewide controlson development, remain unresolved, lawmakers said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and legislators have wrestled since last fall with an estimated $430 million shortfall in revenue for fiscal 1991, which ends June 30. Lawmakers said they expect the deficit to grow even more,with updated estimates expected tomorrow.

"The budget deficit isstill the most crucial issue," Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis, said. "We have to get that resolved."

This year's deficits and bleakprojections for next year have colored each and every bill, legislators said.

"I know I'm looking closely at every fiscal note that comes out (on a bill) in my committee and that comes out on the floor,"Jimeno said. "I know I'm trying to be more involved in the budget this year."

Despite the deficit, lawmakers almost unanimously opposed Schaefer's $800 million package of new taxes and fees. The package was drafted by the governor's commission on tax restructuring, chaired by Montgomery County attorney Robert Linowes.

Memories of last fall's tax revolt are too strong, said lawmakers, who want more time to study the proposals.

"The mood of the legislature is to not evenconsider taxes until we've cut so deeply that the government can't function any more," Sulin said.

Constituents have flooded the legislative office with telephone calls and letters opposed to tax increases. A few have supported restructuring income tax brackets and othershave backed a small sales tax increase, but opposition to a proposed2 percent personal property tax on boats and automobiles has been unanimous, lawmakers said.

Several said they may approve, though reluctantly, an increase in the 18-cent per gallon tax on gasoline, to benefit roads and mass transit projects. However, the governor's proposed 5 percent sales tax on gas stands no chance, they said.

The governor's plan to place statewide controls on development is among themost controversial bills still to be decided. But, as with the Linowes commission proposals, most legislators said they want more time to study the proposed Maryland Growth and Chesapeake Bay Protection Act.

Winegrad said Maryland needs the growth-controls now. "Our major environmental problem is population growth . . . and urban sprawl,"he said. "It's been studied to death: We have to act."

"It's beenan emotional roller coaster for me," Delegate Michael Busch said.

The Annapolis Democrat took over as delegation chairman after Annapolis Delegate John Astle was called up by the Marines. He also shared an office with Dr. Aris Allen, who committed suicide Feb. 8.

"I'vegone through some radical changes from other years," Busch said.

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