Assembly Enters New Era 1995 Maryland General Assembly

January 08, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's newly elected General Assembly arrives in Annapolis this week to face a political world turned on its ear.

It is a world in which liberalism, big-ticket spending and government regulation are being talked about as relics from the past. The buzzwords now are conservatism, spending cuts, tax relief and more help for businesses.

The legislature's Democratic leaders -- and the state's Democratic governor-elect, Parris N. Glendening -- say they are ready to show voters they understand the message of an election that swept Republicans to power in Congress for the first time in 40 years, increased the GOP presence in Annapolis to its highest level in 75 years and nearly put a conservative Republican in Maryland's Governor's Mansion.

Where spending programs and political largess were once the coin of political power, lawmakers from both parties are now vowing to prove they can do more with less.

Mr. Glendening and House and Senate leaders already have agreed to limit state spending in the new budget and are talking about lowering business and income taxes, perhaps this year.

Democrats and Republicans alike are saying they intend to limit the scope of government, to do more to attract businesses to the state, to lower closing costs for home purchases, and to impose time limits and work requirements on welfare recipients.

To clean up the assembly's image, lawmakers are expected to impose new restrictions on legislative lobbyists, make it easier to catch those who violate campaign finance laws, and abolish the only program in the nation that allows legislators to dispense financial scholarships directly to their own constituents.

But the changes on the table are unlikely to occur overnight.

Of the 188 part-time lawmakers who will open the four-year term by taking the oath of office Wednesday, 82 will be taking their seats in the House or Senate for the first time -- a 44 percent turnover. It will take a while for many of them to learn the rhythm of the legislative process and to begin to understand the complexities of difficult issues.

"I think there is going to be a fair amount of organizational chaos," the House's new Democratic floor leader, Montgomery County Del. John Adams Hurson, predicted. "Clearly, we are going to be operating in a different environment because people are new."

Learning year

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat who begins his second year in charge of the 141-member House, has already tried to temper high expectations by saying he hopes 1995 will be mostly a learning year for new legislators and that 1996 will be a more productive session.

Mr. Hurson conceded that although the Democratic leadership "sort of runs the show, we can't dictate how it comes out."

"There are a lot of very anxious newcomers and anxious veterans who see an opportunity to do something really fundamentally different," he said. "It would be good if this legislative session was one in which we basically got used to steering the vehicle. But I'm not sure it will be that easy."

For example, he said, many of the nation's largest casino operators have hired Annapolis lobbyists to push the new legislature and new governor to legalize casino gambling this year. Mr. Glendening and House and Senate leaders say the state must go slow, but the rank and file may not want to wait, Mr. Hurson said. And the will of the majority will prevail.

What has changed is that the majority may no longer be strictly Democratic. While the Democrats retain numerical dominance in both houses, there are now 15 Republicans in the Senate and 41 in the House -- enough to alter the course of a bill, especially if the Republicans are teamed with conservative Democrats.

That means Democratic leaders can no longer have their way with issues without regard to the Republican view. It means they will have to compromise more often. (Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has already named a Republican, Anne Arundel Sen. John A. Cade, to chair a powerful budget subcommittee, something no one can recall the party in power in Annapolis doing before.)

"We're all going to be feeling our way," said new House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman of Howard County. "There is no provision in the Maryland legislature for a two-party system. We'll have to create that structure and see how it operates. That's all new."

Mr. Kittleman has already served notice on Mr. Taylor that the Republicans expect to propose a significant tax cut, along with an alternative to the budget presented by the Democrats. He has asked the speaker to assure Republicans that the Assembly's budget staff will be made available to them just as it is for the Democrats, and Mr. Taylor said he has agreed to do so.

Recognition of the shift in public mood is everywhere and has put forces that were once aggressive on the defensive.

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