Pork barrel rolling toward the abyss Many items lose out 'in a year like this'

March 12, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS — HTC ANNAPOLIS -- Legislative pork may no longer be kosher.

Senate and House leaders today were expected to drop from next year's budget almost all of the traditional pork barrel -- a constituent-pleasing menu of bond bills to finance projects ranging from the Cumberland Summer Theater to a community swimming pool in Prince George's County.

The $15 million they would normally borrow for these goodies will be used instead for school construction, parkland, and a few projects that have multi-year commitments.

Projects at Bon Secours Hospital and the Kennedy Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital are expected to fall into that last category.

While the amount of money is small when compared to Gov. William Donald Schaefer's $350 million capital budget, legislators are wary of what constituents will think.

"It would have been repugnant to all of us to fund these projects when the state is facing a large deficit," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of the capital budget subcommittee. "In a year like this, we have to set firm priorities."

Mr. Maloney and Sen. Charles H. Smelser, the Carroll County Democrat who heads the capital budget subcommittee in the Senate, said many of the 50-plus projects they've considered are worthwhile.

"They call it pork, and some are, but most are good projects," the senator said. "But with the economy as it is, and the public perception of what we do here, it would be proper for us to forgo the money and put it in education and [parkland acquisition]."

By some calculations, the projects cost more politically than they do in practical terms.

The capital budget is separate from the state's operating budget and is not affected by the state deficit. The funds for the projects come from bond sales, and the debt service becomes part of future operating budgets, secured by the state's property tax.

In fact, some officials have argued that this year is a good time to borrow money for construction because interest rates are low and the building industry is eager for work.

But lawmakers insist their decision transcends politics.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said the idea of limiting the types of projects the state helps finance was discussed during last year's legislative session. Many lawmakers agreed it had gotten out hand, Mr. Mitchell said.

"Some of the requests we were getting were ridiculous," he said. "We were getting into things that were entirely private, or non-profit."

The general membership is expected to support the ban, but not without some grumbling. Sen. Albert R. Wynn, who had a bill in for a park in his Prince George's County district, was less than thrilled when he heard about the proposed change.

"This is the first year I've had a bill [that] I wanted to get out of this committee," said Mr. Wynn, who sits on the Budget and Taxation Committee.

It also is his last chance to get a bond bill out of the committee. As the Democratic nominee for the 4th Congressional District, Mr. Wynn is likely to be a congressman next year.

Today in Annapolis

10 a.m.: House and Senate convene, State House.

1 p.m.: Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee considers legislation calling for a prohibition on the procurement of tropical hardwoods, Room 200, Senate Office Building.

1 p.m.: House Ways and Means Committee considers legislation that would require some prison inmates to share in the cost of their incarceration, Room 110, House Office Building.

There are 26 days remaining in the 1992 General Assembly session.

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