The halls of the State House were buzzing last week. Parris Glendening, in one corner, huddled with lawmakers. Robert Neall, in another, immersed in budget talk. Chuck Ecker, Eileen Rehrmann, Neal Potter, Kurt Schmoke -- all trying to cement critical coalitions and wangle the best deal during tight fiscal times. Notably missing was Baltimore County's executive, Roger Hayden.
Mr. Hayden was in Europe signing a "sister county" agreement with South Glamorgan County, Wales. But as one member of the county delegation blithely noted, "it doesn't matter whether Roger's in Wales or Towson. It's the same thing."
Mr. Hayden's estrangement from state politics is well known. Though he has an excellent lobbyist in Patrick Roddy, the executive has no legislative package for him to push. Add to that strained relations with members of the county delegation, and it is obvious Roger Hayden's absence in Annapolis was symbolic of a general leadership void.
This has not gone unnoticed by the movers and shakers in Annapolis who are not inclined to be compassionate toward Baltimore County, anyway. County delegates ignited the anger last session when they broke with protocol and voted against other members' bond issues. The antagonism continues to be stoked by the tax fight. Many legislators say the county delegation is mired in partisan politics and unwilling to play as part of a legislative team -- that it would vote against a piggyback income-tax increase while letting colleagues take the heat for needed, but unpopular, action.
In addition, delegation members are at each other's throats. Democrats, who took it on the chin as tax-and-spenders in the last election, do not want to pass any revenue-raising measure to let Mr. Hayden off the hook. Republican Delegates Ellen Sauerbrey and Martha Klima have alienated many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with their zealous anti-tax rhetoric.
The result is that there is a palpable "get-Baltimore-County" sentiment in the General Assembly, which has already manifested itself in policy. The county lost big on state and congressional redistricting. And with aid formulas and budget-cutting strategies up for grabs, a lot more is at stake. Already there is talk of adding a rider to the proposal authorizing local income-tax increases that would prevent a jurisdiction from exercising that power unless its delegation voted for the proposal -- which Baltimore County's delegation would not.
Mr. Hayden's presence in Annapolis last week would not have worked a miracle. But his absence underlines the county's problem -- lack of leadership and disunity in the ranks. If Mr. Hayden had at least been in the State House, politicking in the lobby and forging coalitions with other local leaders, he might now have a role to play in crafting a budget solution. Instead, Baltimore County is isolated at a critical policy-making juncture.