State House heat wave not cooling Power struggle could lead to a special session.

April 08, 1991|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

The end of a General Assembly session in Maryland traditionally marks the onset of two things -- hotter weather outside and a cooling of tempers inside political circles.

While it's still a good bet that July will be steamy, far less certain is whether Gov. William Donald Schaefer's scorched relationship with lawmakers will be soothed after the legislature adjourns at midnight.

Both sides are preparing for the worst.

Schaefer, for example, has indicated that he might veto bills in retaliation for the rough treatment his initiatives received this year in the legislature.

And he has notified his Cabinet that he will tour the state in an election-style campaign to get "back in touch with the people." Schaefer apparently believes that if he can rebuild his popularity -- now lower than at any time in his administration -- it would give him more clout in his effort to reform the state's land-use and tax laws.

But, lawmakers say, if he uses his veto power to wreak vengeance on a General Assembly he considers uncooperative, they are ready: They will call themselves into an unprecedented special session as early as next month to try to override the vetoes.

And some lawmakers, fearing a battle with the governor next year over the redrawing of legislative districts, already are looking for ways to pre-empt his authority. The attorney general is expected to rule this week on whether it would be legal for the legislature to redraw the state's political boundaries without waiting for the governor's input.

Several State House observers said the next few weeks will reveal how the two branches of government will work together. There could be rapprochement and cooperation. Or there could be further hostilities that would be felt well into the next legislative session and possibly dog the final three years of the Schaefer administration.

"The governor's got some serious contemplation to do after the session," said Mark L. Wasserman, Schaefer's chief of staff. "He really has some important thinking to do about his relations with the legislature, his politics, redistricting, the state's fiscal plight."

Schaefer has told his staff he will be on the road more this summer. Among the messages he will convey: the serious consequences of the legislature's failure to act on his proposals to reform Maryland's tax system and to restrict urban sprawl with tighter land management.

Both items will be discussed in "summer study" sessions of lawmakers, some of whom have angrily vowed to junk the governor's plans and write their own.

In the meantime, lawmakers are worried that Schaefer will resist the changes they made in his budget. Although he can't veto the budget, he could veto some of the changes that were made through dozens of spending and taxing bills.

The Maryland legislature did not obtain the ability to call itself into special session until the current constitution was ratified in 1970. The action requires the signatures of a majority of members in both the House and Senate and has never been tried.

"It's the legislature trying to deal with a governor that doesn't want to deal with the legislature," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Most special sessions -- such as two in 1985 that dealt with the state's savings and loan crisis -- are convened by the governor. This fall, the governor is expected to call lawmakers back into a special session to redraw congressional districts in accord with the 1990 census data.

Lawmakers could vote on vetoes in the fall session, but that would be too late to implement the budget-related bills before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. A veto-override session, if it becomes necessary, probably would occur in late May or early June, lawmakers said.

"We hope to work things out and avoid a special session. They are expensive to the taxpayers and we'd like to get back to our jobs," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, the House majority leader.

"It all depends on what our relations with the governor are," said Poole, D-W.Md.

When they gather in the fall to redraw congressional districts, lawmakers could also take up the state legislative districts. The constitution requires the governor to submit a redistricting plan by the first day of the 1992 session. Lawmakers must approve their own plan by the 45th day of the session.

But several legislators have inquired about coming up with a plan in the fall session, before the governor has submitted his. The ability to control the redistricting process -- and to punish enemies by scattering their constituencies -- is one of the most significant powers Schaefer has.

"What is the role of the governor in redistricting? Does he provide the fail-safe or is he the initiator? It's an issue that has never been raised before," said Robert Zarnoch, an assistant state attorney general.

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