ANNAPOLIS -- The Schaefer administration calls it "an accountability tool," a way of demonstrating local support for state-funded projects in lean economic times.
General Assembly leaders call it "blackmail."
At issue is Gov. William Donald Schaefer's continued insistence that legislators put in writing their support for specific grants, loans or projects for their districts before the governor, as head of the Board of Public Works, puts the items on the board's agenda.
The requirement has so angered House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, that they sent letters to every member of the General Assembly last week urging them to ignore the governor's demands.
"It is inappropriate for the governor to hold projects off the Board of Public Works agenda or deny state aid to local projects merely because of the lack of a signed letter or signed form expressing support by the legislators," they wrote. "We continue to feel that legislators should not capitulate to this 'blackmail' and should not send letters of support."
One Schaefer administration official yesterday described the intensity of the dispute as "white-hot."
House and Senate leaders have also written the governor, asking him to discontinue requesting such letters of approval. In a potentially more important move, they have asked Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. for a legal opinion that could clarify the dispute.
Among other questions, they have asked Mr. Curran whether there is any statute that requires legislators to provide letters of support, or otherwise sign off on a program or project, as a condition for placing the item on the board's agenda. They also asked whether the governor can unilaterally hold items off the board agenda or have his executive agencies deny grants, loans or other state assistance, solely because a legislator failed to sign a letter or project approval form.
The presiding officers also said they have asked state Treasurer Lucille Maurer, who sits on the board along with the governor and state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, to intervene on the legislature's behalf.
The next board meeting is not until Aug. 14.
Daryl C. Plevy, an executive assistant to Mr. Schaefer, said the governor also has told her that a number of legislators have privately thanked him for requiring the letters.