Governor and legislative leaders trade verbal volleys War between Schaefer and General Assembly over the budget heats up.

March 28, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

Gov. William Donald Schaefer began the day by calling for an end to "this war between the governor and the legislature," saying the ongoing dispute over the state budget would only hurt Maryland residents.

But by the time the sun had gone down on the 78th day of the 90-day session, the fighting between Schaefer and the General Assembly had threatened to grow into an outright donnybrook, with some lawmakers suggesting that a legislative Armageddon is inevitable.

"His ability to deal with the legislature has never been worse," remarked Sen. Laurance Levitan, chairman of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee and a frequent critic of the governor.

Levitan suggested that the latest volleys between the warring groups will encourage the legislature to engage in an all-out power struggle with Schaefer.

"It can be done," he said. "We've got creative people and there are ways it can be done."

Schaefer's call for a peace came at the weekly meeting of the state Board of Public Works yesterday, where he chastised the legislature for rejecting about $48 million in budget revisions that would have funded several welfare and environmental programs. Legislative leaders turned thumbs down on the governor's plan Monday, but said they were willing to pay for those programs through different funding sources.

The differences over how to resolve the latest budget quandary intensified the session-long verbal warfare between Schaefer and the legislature and prompted the governor's remarks yesterday.

"This war between the governor and the legislature doesn't serve the state well," Schaefer said. "The only ones to lose are the people.

"It's time for that to stop," he said, adding that people who think his power is diminishing are wrong.

"Those who believe the power of the governor is waning will find out that is not true," he said.

Within hours after his peace appeal, however, Schaefer's press office issued three separate releases in which the governor again blasted the legislature for turning down his budget plan and for failing to approve his request for a gas tax increase.

In one, an open letter to Eastern Shore residents published in the Easton Star-Democrat yesterday, Schaefer claimed the General Assembly's rejection could mean the loss of health services through two state-run hospitals and the use of some medical-evacuation helicopters in that region of the state.

The second was a letter Schaefer wrote to the mayor of Federalsburg in which he said the town could lose certain lTC planned projects because the legislature failed to approve his proposed gas tax.

And the third was a press release in which the governor criticized a Senate subcommittee for rejecting his plan to spend $88 million in bonds to buy property it now leases for state offices.

Paul E. Schurick, Schaefer's press secretary, said the letters and release were meant only to draw the public's attention to the budget dilemma "in very specific, very real terms."

But some legislators saw the governor's statements as another volley in the verbal war. In turn, they fired off their own rounds against the governor.

Most angered was House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Democrat who is the highest ranking office holder from the Eastern Shore. In a written rejoinder, Mitchell accused the governor of committing a "disservice" by "increasing apprehensions" about health care.

Mitchell said he asked a joint House and Senate budget committee to review the governor's 109-position department "to determine whether some of these positions can be deleted" and used to fund positions needed at two Shore-based state hospitals that are understaffed.

Any chance of a peace between the two factions in the last days of the session appear to have been --ed by yesterday's exchange, some lawmakers said.

"How can he say he wants peace when he ships that letter off to the Eastern Shore?" asked Levitan, who said relations between the governor and the General Assembly can only worsen.

"It's just going to be a mess," he said. "I don't think there's any way in the world he's going to change his style. It's gotten worse every year he's been down here."

Levitan said the legislature will continue to oppose the governor on budget issues and on other matters, including political appointments. He said the legislature's power grows or shrinks depending upon who occupies the governor's office.

"We moved in on [then-Gov.] Harry Hughes because he let us," he said. "We'll move in on Governor Schaefer because he's forcing us to."

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