Assembly is set to extend deadline for '92 budget

January 15, 1991|By John W. Frece rTC | John W. Frece rTC,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- With tempers cooling off following an #i acrimonious exchange between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Senate president last week, the legislature began moving a resolution yesterday that will extend the constitutional deadline for the governor to submit his next state budget.

The delay has been caused by a steady flow of worsening revenue estimates affecting the current and upcoming year's budget.

Governor Schaefer first broached the subject of extending the Jan. 19 budget deadline with legislative leaders at a breakfast at the governor's mansion Friday morning. But when he attempted to downplay the importance of the resolution, saying, "It is not a big thing," he angered Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.

"Governor, this is a big thing," Mr. Miller was quoted as saying by others at the breakfast. Even during World War II and the Great Depression, governors managed to adhere to the constitutional deadline, Mr. Miller is said to have told the governor.

Mr. Schaefer responded with such anger that the main purpose of the meeting -- to brief the leaders on his legislative agenda for this session -- was abandoned. As their eggs Benedict cooled in front of them and their embarrassed colleagues looked on, the two men argued back and forth, with the governor predicting the fight would set the tone for the entire session, said others who were at the table.

But with no possible sanctions or other recourse against the governor for failure to meet the constitutional deadline, House and Senate leaders subsequently agreed to move the resolution through to passage.

The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the resolution, which would extend the deadline from Jan. 19 to Feb. 1, and which authorizes the presiding officers to extend it further, if necessary. Final House approval is expected today, and Senate approval is expected tomorrow.

State officials who have researched the issue back to the 1920s say it is the first time since then -- and possibly ever -- that a Maryland governor has had to request such an extension.

The delay in preparing the fiscal 1992 budget was caused largely by a $423 million deficit that suddenly developed in the current, fiscal 1991 budget, said Charles L. Benton Jr., Mr. Schaefer's budget secretary.

Mr. Benton also acknowledged to the House Appropriations Committee that he had some difficulty getting answers on budget matters from Mr. Schaefer, who was distracted by his re-election campaign last fall.

Calling the circumstances around this year's budget-making process "unique," Mr. Benton said his department could not turn its attention to next year's budget until it had figured out how to eliminate this year's deficit.

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