ANNAPOLIS – No matter what projects they pitched — parks, adult day care centers or therapeutic equestrian centers — lawmakers politely referred to them as “worthy legislative initiatives.”
But in more relaxed moments, they conceded that their pleas for hometown projects are really all about “bringing home the bacon.”
“It’s a long, drawn-out process. It’s about taking home the bacon,” said Del. Martha Klima, R-Baltimore County. “We call it the beg-a-thon.”
Klima, who said she has only sponsored two bond bills in her 16-year legislative career, said the already political process of begging for “worthy legislative initiatives” is even more so in this election year.
Lawmakers have asked for $114 million worth of projects this year and fiscal committee leaders said they expect to have about $25 million to dole out.
For a week now, legislators have trooped through the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, armed with charts, videos, maps and wide-eyed children to help make their cases.
Appropriations allowed 10 minutes of testimony for each of the hundreds of bond bills before it, while the Budget and Taxation Committee allotted six minutes per pitch.
The pleas were uniformly polite.
“Having gone to Catholic schools, there’s one thing the nuns used to tell us when we wanted something: `Say please,'” said Ellie Trueman, who was asking for $300,000 to fund a therapeutic equestrian center for the disabled and at-risk youth at the Rickman Horse Park.
“So, please,” she said.
“That doesn’t work here,” teased Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings, D-Baltimore and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
The committees were asked to “smile favorably” on projects and “please lend your support.” Some speakers were more succinct, simply saying, “Vote for this.”
The Senate has wrapped up its hearings and the House will finish next week, with the committees expected to make decisions soon thereafter. But some lawmakers think the decisions have already been made.
“It’s a process that needs to be controlled,” said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard, and an Appropriations Committee member.
Flanagan, a fiscal conservative who said he is reluctant to sponsor bond bills, said there are two important points that describe the bond bill process.
“One, it’s pretty much a secret process,” he said. “It goes through the Appropriations Committee, but by the time Appropriations votes, the deals have been all worked out.
“Two, it is crowd control for leadership,” said Flanagan, who called bond bills one of leadership’s most powerful tools.
But Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore and chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said Flanagan’s take on the process is pretty cynical.
“We try to focus more on projects than politics,” she said.
Still, lawmakers recognize that it is pork-barrel politics. Montgomery County lawmakers gave Del. Norman H. Conway, D- Wicomico, a golden pig when he became vice-chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Conway defends the process, saying the projects funded by bond bills “truly make neighborhoods neighborhoods.”
“We try to consider the needs of everyone,” Conway said.
Del. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, said it is hard for lawmakers to say no to constituents when they come to ask for money for local projects. But he said that doesn’t mean that many of the worthy legislative initiatives aren’t just that — worthy.
“This is taxpayer money. It should go to the taxpayer,” Muse said.
The governor set aside $12.5 million in his budget for legislative bond bills, but lawmakers can trim from other areas of his budget to make room for their projects. Hoffman said she expects to carve out enough to fund about $25 million of projects while Klima said the House may set aside up to $30 million.
That is still just a fraction of what lawmakers are seeking.
“It’s impossible to help everybody,” said Del. John Hurson, D-Montgomery, who is sponsoring two bond bills this year.