ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer unexpectedly backed off yesterday from his demand that legislators put in writing their support for specific state projects before project contracts are put on the Board of Public Works' agenda.
In the nearly five months since Mr. Schaefer initiated the controversial procedure, he has defended his right to require the letters from legislators and has even threatened to sue the General Assembly, if necessary, to demonstrate that he was acting within the powers granted to the state's chief executive.
At a time when the state faces large deficits, Mr. Schaefer said it was important to know before committing the state's money whether there was still local support for often expensive projects or programs.
But at a board meeting yesterday, the governor announced he had received a short letter from House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, that had convinced him it was time to give up the practice.
Mr. Mitchell said in the letter that he understood what the governor was trying to accomplish but that the continuing controversy was hindering their working relationship. The speaker urged the governor to stop requesting the letters so that "we can put this matter behind us."
Legislators had complained that the governor was trying to make them beg in writing for projects already approved through broad appropriations in the state budget. Many conceded privately that they feared Mr. Schaefer intended to use the letters in some retaliatory fashion if they later differed with him on some tax or spending issue.
Mr. Schaefer said he would continue to send letters to legislators notifying them of money spent on state projects within their districts but that he no longer would require their written support in advance.
Mr. Mitchell was just as vocal an opponent of the procedure as his counterpart, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, but Mr. Schaefer chose to blame Mr. Miller for the dispute.
"The president of the Senate put intense pressure on many members of the legislature" to ignore the governor's demands, Mr. Schaefer said.
But Mr. Miller and Mr. Mitchell together signed letters to all General Assembly members urging them not to write the requested letters.
"I objected every bit as much," Mr. Mitchell said yesterday. "It is not fair to single out the president as the culprit in this."
As for being blamed for the impasse, Mr. Miller said, "The best answer to slander is to just be silent and persevere in one's duty and let others base their opinion on the facts at hand."