ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland senators will have to stand up and be counted if they want to keep a $500 pay raise.
But it's a vote with an escape hatch. Even if they vote to do without, a note to the bookkeepers will bring the money back.
"No matter what we do, it's not binding," said Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which approved a resolution 7-4 yesterday that would permit a senator to turn down the pay raise due Jan. 1, 1993.
"All you have to do is write a letter to the accounting office."
While Maryland lawmakers may want to appear prudent in a desperate budget year, they run up against a constitutional provision that prohibits a legislature from modifying its salary -- up or down.
The $500 increase lawmakers are scheduled to receive Jan. 1 is part of salary schedules that are set every four years by an independent commission.
Still, Mr. Levitan said, the resolution has symbolic significance at a time when the General Assembly has frozen salaries and has asked state employees to take unpaid furloughs.
Sen. John A. Cade objected strenuously to the resolution and said he had no intention of voting for the pay cut.
"I'm not going to take a $500 pay cut, I'm not going to take a $1,000 pay cut," the Anne Arundel Republican said. "I work for every damn nickel I earn down here."
Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, also voted against the resolution in committee, saying he felt his current personal practiceof rejecting some of his $94-a-day per diem expenses for lodging in Annapolis was more than enough.
Senator Irby is one of several senators who turn back some of their per diem.
Sen. Frederick C. Malkus had asked for the pay-raise resolution, inspired by a similar move last week in the House Appropriations Committee. In that action, the House's action had applied to all 188 members of both houses and had proposed cutting the $4 daily increase in members' expense accounts.
But the Dorchester Democrat, who first requested the vote while the full Senate was wrestling with the budget and tax bills, had envisioned a vote in which senators said yes or no to their individual pay increases.
The committee, which voted 7-4 to send the resolution to the full Senate, insisted that it be subject to majority rule.
?3 But they declined to include the House members.