ANNAPOLIS -- He was the surprise witness of the day with perhaps the day's most surprising testimony.
There to answer the question, "Where's Roger?" was none other than Roger B. Hayden, the Baltimore County executive and the most conspicuously absent top elected official in Annapolis this legislative session.
And what did Mr. Hayden -- who was elected in an anti-tax, throw-out-the-bums voter rebellion in 1990 -- come to tell the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday?
He came to support a nickel-a-gallon increase in the state's gasoline tax -- under the condition that some of the proceeds be used to eliminate the state's fiscal 1992 budget deficit so counties like his don't have to absorb another round of cuts in state aid.
"I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that in order to maintain basic services for this year, revenue increases are needed," Mr. Hayden said. "My support for any increases in transportation revenue is conditioned on immediate relief for local governments."
But this little dance was not well received by a committee that finds itself on the hot seat this session.
"I have to get the wax out of my ears," said Del. Theodore Levin, D-Balto. Co., surprised to hear Mr. Hayden support higher taxes of any kind.
Some committee members, most of whom are Democrats, were angered when Mr. Hayden failed to show up for a marathon two-day hearing on tax proposals two weeks ago, and by the political problems caused by the "no new taxes" positions of many of Mr. Hayden's fellow Baltimore County Republicans.
"I appreciate you being here," snapped Del. James C. Rosapepe,
D-Prince George's, "because this is the first time I've ever seen you."
Asked by Mr. Rosapepe why he alone failed to show up at the public hearing on taxes when other county executives of both parties and the mayor of Baltimore were contributing their views, Mr. Hayden said: "We were doing our homework."
"But the time was two weeks ago, and you weren't there," Mr. Rosapepe replied.
Del. Gene W. Counihan, D-Montgomery, then jumped in. Or on.
"We spent 20 hours [at the tax hearing] and Baltimore County's concerns were conspicuously absent," he said. All the committee members know of Baltimore County's position on taxes, Mr. Counihan added, is from "hearing rumors of where you stand."
Before the exchanges turned uglier, a couple of delegates from Mr. Hayden's home county suggested the debate be shifted back to the gas tax.
"Counsel is badgering the witness," one member of the audience piped up.