Thwarted governor threatens vetos

Glendening angered as gay rights, tax on tobacco stall

April 10, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Determined to salvage his foundering proposal to increase Maryland's cigarette tax, Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared war against his State House adversaries last night -- threatening to veto bills backed by his opponents.

A visibly angry Glendening said he would use all his power to force the Maryland Senate to vote on the tax bill, which has been stalled for two days by a filibuster mounted by about 20 Republicans and conservative Democrats.

"If these bills go down, there will be hell to pay," a grim-faced Glendening warned.

In addition to the tax measure, he said he hopes to save his gay-rights bill, which is also near death in the General Assembly.

"You're going to see one heck of an active [veto] pen over the next week. I have the ability to express strongly my displeasure," he said.

Glendening's outburst, which came during a news conference, was fueled by a tense day during which the Senate failed to act on the fiscal centerpiece of his legislative agenda -- a proposal to double Maryland's 36-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes.

Adding to his frustration, the governor was unable for the second straight day to force the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to vote on his bill to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The 11-member panel, which is considered the most conservative in the Assembly, held a committee party yesterday afternoon and did not act on any bills.

The gay-rights measure has little chance of passage before the legislature adjourns Monday night, lawmakers said.

"For people to be sitting around laughing at an ice cream party instead of doing what they were elected for, it's outrageous," said Glendening, who has lobbied aggressively on behalf of the legislation.

The prolonged debate over the governor's tax bill has disrupted the General Assembly as it enters the final weekend of its 90-day session.

Legislators have yet to approve a state budget for next year and cannot until the tax issue is resolved.

Opponents of the tax increase continued a filibuster against the bill until 12: 30 this morning and were expected to continue their efforts today when both the Senate and House of Delegates return to work in Annapolis.

Even as Glendening was vowing retribution should he lose two of his key bills, some members of the Democratic majority in the Senate stepped up pressure on Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, accusing him of not doing enough to move the tax bill.

Miller, a fiscal conservative, opposes such a tax increase, particularly in such good economic times, fearing that it will give Republicans ammunition in future elections.

But he has said he will work to end the filibuster -- even as he made clear he does not have the stomach for the task.

"This is the governor's bill," Miller said. "He's got to give me some Republican votes.

"I've got an impossible task."

While a majority of the Senate supports the tax increase, a solid bloc of the Senate's 15 Republicans and several Democrats has so far resisted efforts to stop debate on the bill.

Under Senate rules, 16 legislators can hold up a vote.

The governor redoubled his lobbying efforts last night by meeting individually with Republican and Democratic senators in Miller's private office while the tax debate dragged on in the chamber.

Glendening's escalating rhetoric -- which seemed aimed at a handful of influential Democrats such as Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Finance Committee, and Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a key figure on the budget committee -- drew a dismayed reaction from some legislators.

The governor's open-ended threat to veto pet bills pushed by tax opponents "would be very counterproductive," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat and a strong Glendening backer.

"We'll work this thing out," McFadden said.

"The governor needs to take a deep breath," added House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

Glendening had initially proposed to increase the state's current 36-cent tax on a package of cigarettes by a full dollar -- a move he said would curb smoking and price cigarettes out of the reach of some teen-agers.

He later acquiesced to a compromise that would raise the levy by 36 cents -- and yesterday he vowed not to compromise further.

The $1 increase was passed by the House of Delegates.

Opponents, including Miller, have called the tax increase nothing more than a revenue-generating device for state government that will do little to stop smoking.

They have complained that in his proposed budget, Glendening did not allocate any of the anticipated tax revenues from the tax to anti-smoking campaigns.

Sun staff writers Michael Dresser and C. Fraser Smith contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/10/99

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