ANNAPOLIS -- The timing couldn't have been worse.
Last Thursday, just as Gov. William Donald Schaefer stood outside outside his State House office to announce that state employees may have to be laid off to help eliminate a growing budget deficit, workers were in the governor's Baltimore office installing two new carpets that cost taxpayers $19,500.
Each of the rugs, bearing a pattern of the state seal, was purchased to replace carpet that had been worn out, said Joseph L. Harrison, a spokesman for the Department of General Services.
One carpet was placed in the governor's personal office and the other in the conference room on the 15th floor of the state office building at 301 W. Preston St.
Mr. Schaefer, apparently recognizing the bad timing of the carpet acquisition, tried unsuccessfully to cancel the contract when he first learned of it this past summer, said his press secretary, Paul E. Schurick. But because the contract to buy the rugs at about $16.40 per square foot already had been awarded, the state had no choice but to go through with the purchase.
Asked if it was appropriate to be spending so much for carpets at a time when some employees might lose their jobs and when various state programs were being trimmed, Mr. Schurick said, "In hindsight, no."
"Given the current circumstances, it is unfortunate that contract could not be stopped," he said. "The governor tried to cancel the contract when it was brought to his attention. But the contract had been let, and the state was obligated for the entire amount."
Mr. Harrison said the contract to purchase the rugs was awarded to Carpet Land Inc. of Baltimore in June. That same month, on June 1, the governor's budget secretary sent a memo to all department and agency heads warning that the economy was becoming sluggish and ordering next year's spending plans to be frozen at this year's spending levels.
But Mr. Harrison said the money used to purchase the rugs was appropriated for that purpose in the fiscal 1990 budget, which means it was approved by the 1989 Assembly.
The rug in the governor's office measures about 18 feet by 27 feet and the one in the conference room measures 19 feet by 37 feet, he said.
"In the past year and a half, all the carpeting on the 15th floor has been replaced, all because of age and because it was worn," Mr. Harrison said. "This is the last area on the 15th floor to be replaced."