Like a flock of migratory birds, most of the country's governors will gather this weekend in the Northwest for their annual songfest -- a noisy and sometimes angry chirping aimed more and more at federal policies that have wrought painful effects on state budgets.
Leading the choir on at least a couple of song sheets this time will be Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who's expected to sound the high notes on such issues as Medicaid funding, the sale of assault weapons and a Pentagon proposal to reduce National Guard forces nationwide.
In addition to two state troopers from the Executive Protection Unit, an entourage of five aides from the governor's Annapolis and Washington offices was scheduled to leave Baltimore-Washington International Airport with Schaefer early today for the flight to Seattle, site of the National Governors' Association's summer conference. The group is to return to Maryland Tuesday.
As a rule, NGA meetings can be ego-building or ego-bruising affairs for the participants.
At last year's steamy gathering in Mobile, Ala., Schaefer fumed after fellow lawmakers and state department officials showed little enthusiasm for his international trade ideas.
And once, after he grew weary of listening to a stream of gubernatorial rhetoric, Schaefer wondered aloud if he shouldn't pull Maryland out of the NGA altogether because, he said, the group accomplishes little.
Schaefer aides say this year the governor will be kept unusually busy. He is to be featured at a Monday press conference touting a proposed resolution that would call on all states to reduce the availability of assault weapons.
Schaefer introduced the resolution at an NGA winter meeting and began soliciting support from other governors weeks before the Seattle conference.
Schaefer also is expected to take a strong role in an assault on proposed federal regulations that would prevent states from receiving billions in extra Medicaid payments.
Maryland and a score of other states have adopted "creative financing" plans that would increase the fees physicians charge patients enrolled in the Medicaid program. The additional money would be paid to the state by the federal government, but the money would not be turned over to the doctors.
Maryland's scheme -- dubbed the Sabatini plan after its creator Health Secretray Nelson J. Sabatini -- was designed to pump about $55 million into the state's ailing budget. As soon as the plan was put into effect July 1, the federal government began to freeze reimbursements for the additional doctor fees.
Federal regulations rewritten to foil the plan are expected to be released next week after the NGA meeting, Sabatini said. Governors -- including Schaefer -- will use the Seattle conference as a forum to send a message to Washington that without such Sabatini plans, states will suffer additional hardships when they try to balance their budgets.
"The feds have got to let that thing stay intact," Sabatini said yesterday. "Our situation is that even absent the $55 million . . . I'm still running about a $60 million deficit in the program. Why don't [the feds] get out front and do something about the mandates?"
He refered to a federal mandate that the state participate with the federal government in the Medicaid program, which helps the poor get proper medical care. Sabatini said more than 400,000 people are on the Maryland's Medicaid rolls, in contrast with about 343,000 recipients 18 months ago.
Another concern for the governors is a Department of Defense plan to cut personnel strength in nearly all military units, including the National Guard.
Schaefer will oppose extensive Guard cuts -- again in the form of an NGA resolution -- arguing that Maryland communities would lose millions of dollars and the state would lose manpower in the part-time military units it counts on during emergencies, according to Kenneth E. Mannella, director of Schaefer's Washington office.
Already proposed for disbandment is the Maryland Army National Guard's 1729th maintenance unit, based in Havre de Grace, and the 1229th transportation company, based in Crisfield. If the federal government cuts the two units, the state would lose about $5.2 million annually, mostly in salaries paid to the combined 350 members, said Col. Howard S. Freedlander, a spokesman for the Maryland Guard.