ANNAPOLIS -- About 700 people from church-affiliated community organizations in Baltimore and Prince George's County crammed into an Annapolis church last night in an effort to convince state legislators that budget balancing is about more than numbers.
It's about moral issues, they said.
"We're here to hold up a moral vision," exhorted the Rev. Roger Gench of Baltimore's Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church.
He told the standing-room-only crowd at Asbury United Methodist Church that any budget denying full funding of a state school aid program known as "APEX," or taking poor Medicaid patients off state-subsidized kidney dialysis machines, or eliminating the already minimal General Public Assistance benefits for poor disabled adults, is immoral.
Organized by Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD) and Interfaith Action Communities of Prince George's County, the mixture of church service and political rally blended prayers for help with threats that legislators will pay at the polls if they do not heed the message.
The consensus at the rally was that the groups could support higher taxes if the money were earmarked for education or other programs aimed at children and the poor. They sought pledges from lawmakers to minimize budget cuts to such programs.
Earlier in the day, another group, the Maryland State Teachers Association, also came out in favor of higher taxes, producing a study by a Johns Hopkins University economist concluding that the state's tax system is in need of major overhaul.
For the most part, last night's message was delivered to the converted -- the BUILD and IAC members themselves and a group of state legislators already sympathetic to their demands.
The turnout was part of an effort to build a statewide interracial, interdenominational coalition. Small delegations from the Eastern Shore and Montgomery County also took part in the rally.
The participants broke into legislative district "caucuses" in which they grilled lawmakers about their stand on various tax and spending issues. Later, the group responded with a chorus of boos when told that no legislators had shown up from Baltimore's 47th Legislative District.