Amid budget gloom and calls for new taxes, the Maryland General Assembly opened its 404th session today in Annapolis.
"This will probably be the best day you'll have in the next 90 days," House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, told his Democratic colleagues at a presession meeting. "It's not going to be an easy session for any of us."
The state faces a projected $1.2 billion deficit in the next fiscal year,largely due to the continuing national recession. Maryland's legislators will be deciding how to balance the state's budget. They probably will elect to go for sweeping budget cuts as well as increases in taxes, some legislative leaders say.
"I think the mood is a little bit pensive, but there's generally a feeling that we're going to get things done," said House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole, D-W.Md.
"We can either become legendary for making great changes or for becoming political goats," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-City. "I just hope we're heroes."
Advocacy groups are not wasting any time in making their views known.
Roger Kuhn, spokesman for the Maryland State Teachers Association, said more than 20,000 people are expected at a rally outside the State House tonight, about half of them teachers.
MSTA, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other groups will call for tax increases to pay for education and other government programs.
Today's opening day ritual began with caucuses by the Democratic majority in each house, where the General Assembly's current leadership predictably was re-elected.
Mitchell will remain as speaker and Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, will remain as Senate president. Del. Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery, was returned as speaker pro tem, and the dean of the legislature, Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., D-Eastern Shore, 78, again was selected as Senate president pro tem.
While budget and tax questions surely will dominate the 1992 session, the first thing on many legislators' minds was the legislative redistricting plan submitted by Gov. William Donald Schaefer today.
In the Senate, Sens. American Joe Miedusiewski and Larry Young, both D-City, huddled over a brightly colored map of the city that showed which election precincts will be where for the next decade if the governor's plan becomes law.
Young, who will be thrown into the same legislative district with his Senate colleague, Julian L. Lapides, D-City, expressed confidence that hecould survive re-election because the overwhelming majority of the new district is black. Young is black, and Lapides is white.
In the House, angry Democratic lawmakers from Baltimore County reviewed the same map, saying they felt some of their districts had been robbed of hard-core Democratic voters to help neighboring city districts that expanded into the county for the -- first time.
"I don't like that map," said Del. Richard Rynd, D-Balto. Co. He said the precinct changes will leave him and other Democratic colleagues in new districts that will be more Republican and more conservative.
If Schaefer felt he was helping the city by shifting more Democrats to city districts, he is wrong, Rynd said. Baltimore County is likely to elect legislators who will be less sympathetic to city problems, he predicted.
But most lawmakers used what Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City, called "gallows humor" to discuss the state's fiscal crisis and anticipated the big rally expected on the night of the session's first day.
The teachers' union chartered 225 buses for tonight's rally at a cost of $70,000.
Although a list of rally permits for the 1992 General Assembly initially indicated that only 1,000 people were expected, Annapolis law officials appear to be leaning toward the MSTA's higher estimate and will close off Rowe Boulevard at 6:15 p.m.
"Opening Day is a good day to hit the legislature, it's like New Year's," Kuhn said.
The rally promised to eclipse the traditional, low-key opening day "First Day Gift" presentation by Marylanders for the Right to Choose. For the sixth year, the group, which represents more than 80 state groups advocating abortion rights, passed out packets of grass seed to those legislators who supported last year's abortion bill.
"Maryland is only an election away from losing our right to choose," said Bebe Vedery, chairman for the Marylanders for the Right to Choose.