Baltimore County Legislators Vote for Anarchy

BARRY RASCOVAR

April 19, 1992|By BARRY RASCOVAR

The retreat from reality continues in Baltimore County. Its legislative delegation has become a captive of the anti-tax crazies. More accurately, these malleable officials have marched into the "something for nothing" camp themselves.

It is understandable that legislators differ on the need to raise taxes. But no legislator should be of the opinion that government can operate without a budget. Yet there were 15 of 22 Baltimore County delegates and 6 of 7 senators voting against passage of a budget nine days ago. It was a vote for anarchy.

But that's fine with these legislators, who are apparently so enamored with their elevated status in life that political self-preservation takes precedent over keeping state government in business. Had these brave souls won this battle, the General Assembly would still be in session, beginning Day 103, with no end in sight -- and agencies making plans to shut down.

Is this any way to run a business, or a government? These legislators know better. They were playing to the crowd -- the fanatical anti-tax crowd of Baltimore County. The county's politicos in Annapolis were demagoging right and left.

Vernon Boozer knows better. But there he was on the Senate floor, reverting to his form as the "bad Vernon" of the 1970s, making "stupid, nasty, hurtful" comments, according to a colleague, to appease the anti-tax zealots.

Paula Hollinger knows better, too. Her long record in favor of progressive social legislation and progressive fiscal spending suddenly disappeared. In place of it was a "no new taxes" approach (and no new budget, either) that can only be chalked up to her quest for re-election in a newly re-drawn district.

Nancy Murphy knows better as well. Even her friend, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, privately admits that she has caved in to the anti-tax know-nothings in her district.

And John Arnick knows better. He's the most experienced and (( influential county legislator. But there he was deserting House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell to cater to the no-tax protesters. As a longtime member of the House leadership, he is well aware how vital it is for the General Assembly to be responsible when it comes to passing a budget. He wasn't, though.

Sure, it's tough for lawmakers to vote for a tax and spending program that makes constituents unhappy. But there are times when doing the right thing is more important than doing what's popular.

As Del. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County noted, "Sure, I'm concerned that this is going to create a backlash. If the taxpayers and the voters don't like what we did, they're free to find a replacement for me and anybody else."

The problem is that too many state legislators seem glued to their seats. They so enjoy the prerogatives and power of the job that they'll stoop to any level to survive. If it means sacrificing their principles, so be it.

"What are they surviving for, to be whores?" said one furious legislator. "How can you not vote for a budget?"

As a result of these "anti" votes, Baltimore County's State House crew is now on the outside looking in. It is the least influential metropolitan delegation in the legislature.

During the extended session just concluded, the Towson group fashioned its no-budget-and-no-taxes approach while delegations from Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City got together to pass the state budget and tax package -- and get most of the goodies.

This could be the coalition of the future. No one in this coalition will forget Baltimore County's lack of courage on the fiscal questions. Nor will the legislative leadership.

For instance, John Arnick, the county's one source of leverage in the House, could lose his committee chairmanship; he defied Speaker Mitchell on the budget. If Mr. Arnick is not removed from this post, Mr. Mitchell puts his speakership in jeopardy. Challenges to the speaker would multiply. And the speaker knows it.

On the Senate side, Nancy Murphy is likely to be bounced from the budget committee for her anti-budget and anti-tax votes. Most likely to be rewarded: Janice Piccinini, the only county senator willing to stand up and be counted on the tax and spending questions.

Now the no-tax battle shifts from the State House to the county seats. In Towson, the Republican anti-tax crowd could end up fighting their fellow party members: the GOP controls both the executive's office and the county council.

Will it be tax hikes over the howls and threats of intimidation by the anti-taxers?

Or a decimation of local services over the screams of protesting teachers, parents and neighborhood groups?

The council and County Executive Roger Hayden will have to do one or the other to balance the budget. They can't take the easy way out -- the way favored by most of Baltimore County's state

legislators.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun.

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