ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's budget crisis apparently means legislators can no longer afford a sense of humor.
Yesterday, hours after a partisan Senate argued over a bill to designate a state dinosaur, Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, floated a proposal to make "How you doin', Hon!" the Official State Greeting.
Reaction to the draft legislation indicated the possibility of a humor deficit.
"In addition to striking those people in a frivolous manner, it could strike some native Baltimoreans in the wrong place," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. "Rather than hit their funny bones, it could hit them somewhere else."
David S. Iannucci, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's chief lobbyist,was not amused either.
"I think there are very important issues before the 1992 General Assembly, and we would urge the members to concentrate their time on the issues that would really make a difference to Marylanders," he said solemnly.
To which Mr. Levitan replied, chuckling broadly: Hey, it's a joke!
And a hoax, as well. While Mr. Levitan had the bill drafted earlier this week, he said he has no intention of introducing it.
"It's tongue-in-cheek," he said.
"I just thought with state dinosaurs and duckpins for the state sport, we could use a state greeting. I just think we need a little levity."
The state dinosaur issue proved earlier that levity is a precious commodity in this grim legislative session.
Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, urged his colleagues to defeat the dinosaur bill, arguing that "This is like Nero fiddling while Rome burns."
Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore, defended the bill, noting that the Senate had time for such matters as long as there was no consensus on the budget.
Mr. Cade inferred a political insult.
"The Democrat leadership has accomplished nothing," said Mr. Cade, one of the few Republicans who has been working with the Democrats in an effort -- stymied so far -- to develop a comprehensive budget and tax package.
Mr. Miller sympathized with Mr. Cade's frustration, although he argued that the dinosaur bill, conferring official status on Astrodon johnstoni, at least has "some educational value."
For the record, the bill that would designate Astrodon as Maryland's official state dinosaur passed the Senate 31-12. If enacted by the House, it will join the ranks of the state flower, bird, dog and crustacean.
But no state greeting, hon.