Schaefer agrees to delay a signature showdown Governor won't require letters for some state projects.

August 14, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

A potentially rancorous showdown between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and legislative leaders was expected to be averted, at least for today, when the state Board of Public Works met to review a list of building projects and grants for local areas.

Schaefer, who until today had insisted on having lawmakers sign letters supporting specific projects before he would let the board allocate money for them, was expected to issue a prepared statement indicating he will not oppose some projects even though they do not have the required signatures.

But, Schaefer aides warn, today's action does not mean that the governor is retreating from his original position of requiring proof of support. He may use his authority to defer board approval on some projects and, in some cases, he still may seek legislative support in the form of signed letters.

State Treasurer Lucille Maurer, one of three board members, was expected to offer a resolution today requesting that the board add about 20 previously stalled capital projects and grants to the board's meeting agenda.

Her resolution was expected to have the support of board member Louis L. Goldstein, the state comptroller, resulting in a majority regardless how the governor voted.

Maurer's gambit was strongly encouraged by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, who have been fighting to get a number of overdue projects on the board agenda.

With Maurer's resolution and Goldstein's support, Miller and Mitchell hoped to override Schaefer's opposition.

"I hope the governor can count to two," Mitchell said yesterday.

With a political logic based in part on a state attorney general's opinion saying the governor can ask for but not require such letters of support for projects, Schaefer, according to his director of legal issues, is expected to say he views Maurer's resolution as an indication of the legislative backing he has been seeking since May when he initiated his new policy.

"His goal all along was to make sure that legislative support exists for projects," Daryl C. Plevy, the legal issues aide, said yesterday.

Schaefer's policy, which has had the effect of delaying a wide variety of building projects in many parts of the state, infuriated General Assembly leaders.

The capital projects and grants were approved by the legislature when it passed the state budget, they argued, and no further approval from lawmakers is needed. The board is required to approve all expenditures of more than $5,000.

Schaefer had said he wanted legislators' signatures so that "we can make sure, before the money is actually released, that the local officials still believe" in the projects. He argued that it is fiscally unwise to spend tax dollars unless lawmakers and their constituents support the projects.

But legislative leaders see the governor's action differently.

"It's revenge. It's spitefulness," Miller said.

Miller said Schaefer wanted to withhold funding from certain projects to punish areas that did not support the governor's re-election and lawmakers who voted against his bills that came before the General Assembly.

To Maurer, who once served as a legislator and is elected to her office by the General Assembly, the spat between the governor and lawmakers has grown from a routine political "inside baseball" contest to a major battle.

"It's become an issue of the dignity of the General Assembly and not one of signatures," she said. "It's almost a constitutional crisis over form letters."

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