Building a case for construction projects Lawmakers openly angle for support for pet plans

April 08, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

When arguments to improve the economy or please a Very Important Person failed, state legislators resorted to begging as they tried to slip a favorite project into a $400 million construction budget last weekend.

"It will help the children," a handful of delegates and senators told one another, trying shamelessly to tug at each other's heartstrings.

Many of the projects the full General Assembly is expected to approve today do help children, including the $118 million for school construction statewide and smaller amounts for day care and recreation centers.

But the process of negotiating the construction budget was one of the most openly political and often humorous in Annapolis.

Seated on opposite sides of a small room Friday and Saturday nights, House and Senate negotiators, fueled by diet colas and caramel popcorn, squared off in a modern version of horse-trading. Quickly, unrelated projects became linked as both sides tried to advance their positions.

"We'll give up a quarter of a million on the aquarium if you'll give up a quarter of a million on the children's museum," Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat, offered her House counterparts in an early attempt to deal.

Negotiations became intense when they concerned almost $18 million in legislators' pet projects, which make up less than 5 percent of the budget for building schools, colleges, prisons, hospitals and museums across Maryland.

Legislative projects are fondly called "pork" by many lawmakers, unless, of course, the money is going to their districts. In that case, legislators say the projects are exceptionally "worthy."

As negotiators met late into the night, one Anne Arundel County senator made oinking noises when projects in Baltimore were discussed but spoke passionately for those on his home turf.

The senator, Republican John A. Cade, demanded to know why the House wanted money for a park and museums in Baltimore, but did not allocate enough to help renovate an old Annapolis building. "If the termites stopped holding hands," Mr. Cade said, "the building would fall apart."

But Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, defended the city projects with equal fervor. Of one proposal to build a child care center, Mr. Rawlings, a bear of a man, said, "This helps little children in the inner city."

Ultimately, their maneuverings led to a compromise that resulted in money for Anne Arundel and Baltimore projects alike.

It often helps a project to have sponsors in high places. Senators successfully fought for funds to help a Baltimore church open a day care center, the "top priority" of Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, a city Democrat.

Senator Hoffman reminded the delegates that her colleagues had sought to help House leaders with other projects important to their constituents. "We tried very hard to accommodate an important person in the House of Delegates," Mrs. Hoffman said. "You can ask Tom Lewis," the top aide to House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Cumberland Democrat.

Both houses approved $1.3 million to help Cumberland, hard hit by factory closings, build a tourist attraction around part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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