Efforts to balance Maryland's budget ran into an unexpected roadblock yesterday as the House speaker conceded he did not yet have the votes to cut $147 million in aid to local governments.
Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. had said last week that he thought he had the votes to pass the measure -- which is a key part of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's $450 million deficit-reduction plan.
But yesterday, the Kent County Democrat said he had informed Mr. Schaefer that plans for a special legislative session have been put on hold while he attempts to line up the 71 votes necessary to pass the proposal in the House. The General Assembly had tentatively planned to convene in special session the second week of November.
Mr. Mitchell said he had not given up hope of pinning down enough votes, but he declined to predict that his effort would be successful.
Both he and the governor are backing a plan that would eliminate a state program that pays the Social Security costs for teachers, librarians and community college employees whose salaries are set locally.
But Mr. Mitchell said a coalition of Montgomery and Prince George's County legislators who oppose elimination of the Social Security program has blocked his attempt to nail down necessary support.
"I probably had in the range of 76 or 77 [votes,] but 10 or 12 were soft votes," he said. "I'm not going to go in [to special session] until I have a hard count, whether that's two weeks from now, three weeks from now or four weeks."
The suburban Washington coalition has come up with at least two proposals that would be more favorable to Montgomery, Prince George's and several other of the state's more populous counties.
In one plan, initially pushed by Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter but revised by Prince George's Delegate James C. Rosapepe, both Democrats, the hit to Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's would be reduced, but the cut to Baltimore and the 17 other counties would be increased.
"The plan we had on Social Security is the lesser of all evils for two-thirds of the counties," Mr. Mitchell said. "All the other plans are the worst of all evils for two-thirds of the counties. I want to try to pass the plan that harms the most counties the least."
Page Boinest, acting press secretary to Mr. Schaefer, said the governor viewed this latest stumbling block as typical of the ups and downs of the legislative process.
"The governor is not ready to hit the panic button, and I don't think anybody is," she said.
Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., chairman of House delegation from Prince George's County, said that if the Potter-Rosapepe plan could be amended so that the aid loss to Baltimore were reduced, city lawmakers might join the coalition and provide enough additional votes to get the plan passed.
Mr. Mitchell, however, said he was looking for votes to cut the Social Security costs. He indicated he might not call a special session to consider alternative plans.
He and Mr. Schaefer have argued that the state has no control over its spending on Social Security because the benefit is based on salaries set locally.
Moreover, they say each jurisdiction can decide how best to move funds from other programs to cover the Social Security costs.