Senate passes controversial Social Security measure, 29-17 House to consider Senate version

vote is expected today

November 19, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith and John W. Frece | C. Fraser Smith and John W. Frece,Staff Writers Staff writer Marina Sarris contributed to this article.

Senate leaders choked off a filibuster mounted by rebellious Montgomery County lawmakers last night and then easily passed a bill that would shift $147 million in state expenses to local governments.

With unexpected speed, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. pushed the measure to final approval by a vote of 29-17.

The bill would permanently shift from the state to local governments the responsibility for paying the employer's share of Social Security taxes for public school, library and community college employees.

The House of Delegates, meanwhile, reconvened in an extraordinary session a minute after midnight this morning to consider its own version of the same bill. But against the backdrop of Montgomery's defeat in the Senate, it became clear that final passage of the legislation could not be postponed for long. To expedite the process, delegates agreed to consider the just-passed Senate bill, which, if passed without changes, could bring the special session to an earlier finish than expected.

Early this morning, Montgomery County delegates still were attempting to push a series of amendments to the bill, but a final vote on the legislation was already scheduled for later today.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, who was angered by delaying tactics that prevented the House from voting on the bill early yesterday, ordered the House to reconvene at 12:01 a.m. today, the earliest the legislation could be legally considered without suspending House rules.

The shift in responsibility for the Social Security taxes is part of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to eliminate a $450 million deficit in this year's state budget.

Debate in both houses yesterday was filled with warnings that passing the Social Security bill over the objections of Montgomery and Prince George's lawmakers would create a lasting division within the General Assembly, pitting the Washington region against Baltimore, wealthy jurisdictions against poorer ones, and legislators against colleagues with whom they had once worked.

"This, I guarantee you, will split us apart," said Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Laurence Levitan, a Montgomery County Democrat.

"Without the votes the city normally gets -- without Montgomery and Prince George's -- it's going to be tough [for Baltimore]."

The governor, who monitored the debate and then appeared outside the Senate chamber after the final vote, said, "It's never pleasant when there is dissension. It's never pleasant when you have to make a very difficult decision. No matter what you do, it's never right."

The governor vowed to sign the bill whenever it is finally enacted, however. He hinted that once the furor over this bill dies down, he may try to find some way to make amends to Montgomery County.

"I don't want any subdivisions hurt. Montgomery County is particularly important to the state, and to me," he said. "I hope cooler heads will allow us to think things out."

Montgomery's legislators insisted they have for years been promised that the state grant for Social Security would be continued indefinitely as long as they supported programs that sent money to other, less wealthy jurisdictions.

Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, said the state's nagging financial problems had forced a new, harder look at all state aid programs.

Del. John G. Gary, R-Anne Arundel, agreed, saying: "A deal doesn't last forever down here."

Mr. Maloney and other backers of the bill argued that by paying Social Security taxes for local governments, the state increases the disparity in school spending between the poorest and richest local governments -- a gap other education aid programs attempt to reduce.

They also say ending the program rids the state of an open-ended expense that continued to grow every time local governments dispensed pay raises to their teachers, librarians or community college employees.

Started in 1958 at a cost of $3 million, the state aid program would cost an estimated $250 million by the year 2000.

Senators from Montgomery tried no fewer than 18 times to amend the bill yesterday. They offered substitute cuts in other local aid programs; suggested other, unrelated places to cut the budget -- such as saving $11 million by de-authorizing the proposed second sports stadium in Baltimore; and tried several times to make the Social Security cut for one year only. They failed each time.

While assembly leaders said they wanted to avoid acrimony, yesterday's events seemed to push many to the limit of their patience.

When Montgomery County Sen. Patricia Sher proposed a bill and later an amendment to require Baltimore to pay the Social Security costs for two city institutions recently taken over by the state -- the city's jail and community college -- Baltimore Sen. Julian L. Lapides called it "retaliatory, small-minded and petty."

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