Clean air bill fails in Senate Autoworker job fears swing panelist's vote

March 13, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- In Ralph M. Hughes' mind, it came down to a choice between clean air in 2005 or 3,700 jobs right now -- and the jobs won.

Senator Hughes, a Baltimore Democrat, stunned the Schaefer administration yesterday by casting the deciding vote against a bill that would eventually require all new cars sold in Maryland to meet California's stringent tailpipe emission standards.

Mr. Hughes said he decided two days ago to vote against the bill in the Judicial Proceedings Committee because of autoworkers concerned about their jobs at General Motors Corp.'s Baltimore assembly plant.

Although there was no official threat to the plant because of the legislation, he said the workers had feared their jobs would be cut because of the extra cost of making cars and trucks that complied with the tougher standards.

"I told them I usually don't make commitments before I vote but I was pretty sure I was going to vote against it and give them another year," Mr. Hughes said.

The bill, which would have taken effect in the 1996 model year, failed on a 6-5 vote.

However, a similar bill with a 1998 starting date and other modifications to mollify critics is about to move out of the House of Delegates, giving the issue a second chance in the Senate.

In addition to Senator Hughes, the votes against the bill were: Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, the committee's chairman; Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County; Habern W. Freeman, D-Harford; Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll; and Frederick C. Malkus, D-Dorchester.

Favoring the measure were Mary Boergers, D-Montgomery; Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery; Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel; John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore; and Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County.

A close vote had been predicted, but neither side expected Mr. Hughes to be the swing vote.

In fact, David S. Iannucci, the chief lobbyist for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, told reporters that environmentalists had met with Mr. Hughes less than an hour before the voting session and had felt sure of his vote.

But Mr. Hughes said he made no promises to them and had not been in touch with anyone from the governor's office for at least two weeks.

"No one asked me," he said, after others on the committee expressed surprise at his vote.

Robert Perciasepe, the state's environment secretary, said Maryland faces tough choices if the House bill also fails in the bTC Senate. The state must submit a plan for curbing smog to the federal government within two years.

"If it's not going to be cleaner cars, it's going to be cleaner something else," Mr. Perciasepe said, citing restrictions on industry or on miles driven by state residents. "I don't know if I have the time or inclination to come back here again."

Mr. Iannucci said he hopes the Senate committee will consider the House bill. "There are bills that have died and then been revived," he said.

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