Swift special session

November 20, 1992

A little over 24 hours after they arrived, state legislators left Annapolis yesterday having completed their main assignment: passage of a bill cutting local aid by $147 million to help balance the state budget. Angry words and delaying tactics by Montgomery County legislators proved no match for the surprising unity of a majority of lawmakers from outside the Washington suburbs.

Most stunning was the quick work of the state Senate in debating a bill that eliminates the subsidy given to local governments to cover Social Security costs of teachers, community college workers and librarians. Instead of a filibuster seemingly without end, senators cut off debate after a mere two hours -- yet still managed to let all opponents fully air their points of view. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, braving his Prince George's constituency, deserves praise for this unusually efficient demonstration of representative democracy.

Still, the angry rhetoric flowed on both the Senate and House floors. Montgomery lawmakers used their favorite punching bag -- Baltimore City -- as the chief target. The irony is that while Montgomery took the biggest hit in lost state aid, $27 million, the city also absorbed a major blow -- $16 million under this plan. But city legislators at least recognized that all subdivisions had to share in the fiscal pain to get the state's budget back in balance. They also understood far better than their Montgomery counterparts that any other deficit reduction plan would cut far more deeply into local aid. This was the best plan available.

Montgomery legislators would be foolish to follow through on their threats to get even with the city for backing Assembly leaders on these aid cuts. That would be unwise politically and create enormous regional tensions. It also would be a battle Montgomery lawmakers could not win in the long run. It is time to move on and consider, without rancor, other pressing issues facing the state.

Sadly, legislators left the State House without taking up another important matter: a recent court decision that throws into doubt consumer lending policies of local banks, savings and loans, credit unions and retail merchants. By failing to delay the impact of the court's decision, lawmakers risk creating a chaotic situation in the crucial shopping season should banks turn off the lending spigot.

If that happens, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell will have to take the blame. He blocked any legislative action this week on a bill that would postpone the impact of the court ruling until after the legislature debated and voted on the issue early next year. It was an imprudent decision on the speaker's part, one that we hope does not adversely affect the Maryland economy.

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