Gov. William Donald Schaefer is about to become the first governor of Maryland in at least 70 years -- perhaps ever -- to fail to submit a budget plan to the General Assembly on time.
The constitution allows for a late budget if the governor receives permission from the General Assembly. A joint resolution, giving Schaefer until Feb. 1 to offer the budget bill, was submitted today in the House and is expected to pass next week, said House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, D-Eastern Shore.
But the matter has raised the ire of some lawmakers and the suspicion of others. The governor's aides say they simply could not produce the fiscal 1992 budget in time because of the extensive revisions that slumping tax revenues forced them to make in the 1991 budget.
Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that the governor's office has acted in "good faith" to get the budget done. His committee and its Senate counterpart have adjusted their schedules to accommodate the late budget.
But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said yesterday, "Nobody's done it in 70 years. I don't understand it."
Senate leaders accused the governor of everything from sloppy fiscal management to deliberate deception. Some suggested he was delaying the budget deliberately to allow his supporters more time to lobby for tax increases.
Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, faulted Schaefer for defying the constitution, which requires the governor to submit a budget plan 10 days after the opening of the 90-day session. The constitution provides for no penalty if the governor is late.
"It could be tied to the Linowes proposals because there is a full-court press going on," said Levitan, referring to changes in the state tax code recommended by a panel led by attorney R. Robert Linowes.
The Linowes plan includes increases in the sales and income taxes and is the subject of much behind-the-scenes lobbying. Schaefer has said he will not introduce legislation to implement the Linowes plan, but would sign any bill if it reached his desk.
Schaefer yesterday denied that the budget delay was deliberate or in any way related to the Linowes tax proposals.
The governor told a convention of the Maryland Association of Counties last night in Hunt Valley that he favors all the tax changes recommended by Linowes. "I'm for all of it. Parts of it must be passed this year," Schaefer said.
Earlier, he had said the budget delay shouldn't make any difference to lawmakers.
"The legislature never works on the budget until the last minute anyway. They have all the time in the world," he said.
The legislature generally has had a hard time making its 83-day constitutional deadline for passing a completed budget. Last year, differences between the Senate and House pushed them into overtime, requiring Schaefer to issue a proclamation giving them extra time to complete the budget.
Legislators complained that the current delay leaves them less time to analyze the budget, but most observers said the practical impact of the delay is slight.