Battle looms over Schaefer veto threat Assembly may call session to override

April 07, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Even as they work to conclude their busines here tomorrow at midnight, Maryland legislators are bracing for a flurry of post-session vetoes from Gov. William Donald Schaefer and preparing for an unprecedented special session called by the Assembly to override them.

Under a provision of the Maryland Constitution adopted in the 1970s, the General Assembly may reconvene without the governor's approval if two-thirds of its members sign a petition. If such a meeting were called, it would be the first in Maryland's history, according to Robert Zarnoch, an assistant state attorney general, who was asked to research the issue.

"What needs to be done will be done," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. "The possibility of a special session has been researched only because threats have been made by the governor to veto all meaningful legislation enacted by the Assembly."

The potential collision arises from a session-long bout of angry comments from the governor -- to legislators and private citizens alike -- and from the Assembly's resolute decimation of the Schaefer legislative package. Virtually every major piece of Schaefer legislation was killed amid charges from each side that the other was ignoring the best interests of the state.

As he left the State House yesterday, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, acknowledged mounting concern about what the governor might do once the legislators leave town.

Mr. Schaefer's chief executive assistant, Mark L. Wasserman, said the governor was carefully reviewing his options -- including vetoes of some legislation.

"It would be useful to complete the session at least on a quiet note," Mr. Wasserman said.

"The ball's in the governor's court, and there are many choices to be made. People should watch what those choices are and how they're made."

A member of Mr. Schaefer's inner circle said the chief executive was torn between his inclination to retaliate against those he feels have offended him and his recognition that a way must be found to stop a cycle in which one side attacks or appears to attack and the other responds.

Last week, for example, the Assembly refused to accept the governor's plan for reorganization of an executive department, an initiative that might have received automatic approval in more harmonious times.

Mr. Schaefer, convinced that his budget had been trifled with by a joint House and Senate conference committee, sent a message to all state government department heads informing them that they had been damaged by the Assembly and listing the names of the six legislators on the committee who gave the $11.6 billion budget its final shape.

"Both sides seem to enjoy the escalation," said Sen. Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery.

Mr. Schaefer's style, though widely in disrepute, still has some adherents.

"I don't object to the governor's position," said Delegate James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George's. "He says we should have done more. I don't think we'd have done as much during this session if he hadn't taken the lead."

Nevertheless, signs of the downward spiral of confrontation were everywhere.

The Senate's Committee on Executive Nominations, normally a rubber stamp for the governor's appointments, plans to meet during the summer. Such a meeting would also set precedent.

"It's a psychological thing," Senator Denis said. "We're saying, 'People can accept gubernatorial appointments at their own risk.' "

Mr. Denis and other Republicans have been outraged that Mr. Schaefer ignored the recommendations of the GOP leadership in selecting GOP members of the State Administrative Board of Election Laws.

"It's made for a fairly unpleasant session, and the public isn't served very well. There's a lack of confidence in government as it is," Mr. Denis said.

Senator Miller and others said that the governor must also decide if he wants to be a partner with the Assembly on the difficult issue of legislative redistricting, on the Linowes commission's tax-restructuring proposals, on legislation to manage growth and on transportation issues.

"I feel that with spring upon us, with legislators departing to their home counties, the governor will have a period of solace; and if he thinks the past year through carefully, the overwhelming majority of the bills will be signed," Mr. Miller said.

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