Steinberg was left out of the loop on gas-tax proposalWhen...

State House Swirl

January 21, 1991|By From The Evening Sun's legislative bureau

Steinberg was left out of the loop on gas-tax proposal

When momentous decisions such as those regarding tricky tax proposals are made in Gov. William Donald Schaefer's second-floor offices, the governor mulls over the matter with his inner circle, right?

Apparently not. The day before Schaefer asked the General Assembly to approve his plan to levy a 5 percent sales tax on gas, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg put on a song-and-dance briefing for reporters on the administration's legislative package. Nineteen bills were described. None was about a new tax.

Steinberg, an all-but-declared candidate for governor in 1994, was peppered with questions about the possibility of a gas tax but shrugged his shoulders and said as far as he knew, it wasn't going to happen soon.

The tax-bill disclosure in Schaefer's State of the State message didn't exactly boost Steinberg's credibility rating. But the important question was, did he know about the tax before his boss announced it?

"I guess I'll have to keep going to these speeches so I can know what's going on," said the second-in-command after the speech.

Feeling's probably mutual:

It's no secret that the relationship between the Schaefer administration and rank-and-file state employees isn't great. Schaefer gets a big pay raise while state job holders get zip. Schaefer imposes a hiring freeze then brings a speech writer onto his staff. The list of complaints goes on.

Publicly, Schaefer aides say the governor respects state workers and is hurt when the sentiment isn't returned. But privately it's clear that some Schaefer people aren't pining away for love lost.

How do some who are close to the governor really feel about state workers? In joke form, here's one answer as was told last week by someone on Schaefer's State House staff:

"Why don't state workers look out the window in the morning? Because they wouldn't have anything to do in the afternoon."

And hi to you guys, too:

It was inauguration day and the Senate was preparing itself for the formal swearing-in ceremonies for the governor and lieutenant governor. Designated keeper-of-the-door for the day, Cpl. Marty Sealey, a member of the State Police force assigned to drive and generally watch over Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., stood by and awaited the word to open the chamber doors so the visiting House members could enter the room.

The time came and Sealey announced in his best baritone that the august colleagues from across the hall were at the door. It was a formal occasion and Sealey rose to it fittingly. In response, the senators cheered and applauded the likable trooper just as he opened the doors for the delegates, who strolled in thinking the noisy reception was intended for them.

The spin doctor is in:

Schaefer's preinaugural festivities went almost unnoticed last week, as a steady drizzle kept the crowds away. One band after another played under a tent set up on the State House steps, but the only ones listening were a handful of workers huddled under umbrellas, checking the sound system.

Paul Schurick, chief spin doctor and press secretary to the governor, stood in shirt sleeves insisting the event was a success.

"I think it's upbeat. You should have been here four or five hours ago when we got here. Everyone was gloomy," Schurick said. Meanwhile, puddles grew in the empty folding chairs and the Bowie State University Gospel Choir sang "Every Day is a day of Thanksgiving."

Kiddie power:

Schaefer seems to be taking on toddlers this year in his package of legislative proposals. Of his 19 bills, two are aimed at children. One measure would make it mandatory for 5-year-olds to attend kindergarten. Another would make kids sit in passenger safety seats while in a car.

One State House wag suggested that it may be time for a 5-year-old liberation army, whose motto could be: "Weave us awone."

If only it weren't so glossy:

O. James Lighthizer can't seem to shake the criticism over "the Book."

The former Anne Arundel County executive has taken a pounding in the press for spending more than $70,000 last year on a glossy, 100-page retrospective of his two terms. Now, a group of tax rebels is trying to derail his confirmation as state transportation secretary because of the book, also known as "The Lighthizer Years 1982-1990: Achievement Through Strategic Planning."

"The vast monies of the Transportation Department cannot afford to be left in the hands of this nominee. God alone knows what he might erect to himself," wrote Robert C. Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, in a letter distributed to state senators last week.

The chairman of the senate committee that is to consider Lighthizer's nomination tonight is not impressed by the tax group's "venom."

After lauding Lighthizer's financial management record, Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel County, quipped: "This is one of the best things to happen to Anne Arundel County -- him being appointed secretary of transportation -- besides for me being elected senator."

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