ANNAPOLIS -- At 8 o'clock tonight, Gov. William Donald Schaefer will sit in his State House reception room, line up some charts, look into a television camera and try to explain to Marylanders just how dark the state's budget picture is.
The 15-minute talk -- to be carried live on at least nine television stations and several radio stations -- was scheduled last week after some legislators convinced the governor that the public does not understand the depths of the fiscal crisis.
Yesterday, Mr. Schaefer had no speech prepared for tonight's talk. He didn't even sound as if he believed the broadcast would accomplish its goals, worrying that his press secretary, Frank Traynor, in drumming up the speech, had "got expectations up so high."
"This is wrong," he said. "I shouldn't be doing this.
"I honestly don't know what I'm going to say," added Mr. Schaefer, who in five years as governor has never before asked for free air time.
Instead of a script, the governor said he would bring the charts that have accompanied recent briefings on the budget deficit, projected at $1.1 billion over the next 18 months.
Even with dramatic cuts in government spending, Mr. Schaefer believes the budget cannot be balanced without a tax increase to raise new revenues.
In his talk, the governor probably will not make a direct bid for tax increases to balance the budget, an aide said yesterday.
But tax-increase opponents, including House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County, say the speech is nothing more than an effort to build support for a tax boost during the upcoming legislative session.
Ms. Sauerbrey is scheduled to join in some of the televised post-speech analysis in an effort to give prominence to the anti-tax point of view.
"I believe the governor is much overstating the problem," she said. "The problem, if you define it properly, is one that can be resolved without a tax increase. I think the governor is going on the air to try to portray the problem in such a way that people will get behind raising taxes."
His projections, she said, include pay raises and increases in department spending that cannot be allowed in an economic crisis.
"I think most people recognize you can't fund everything in bad times that you could in good," she said.
She also said she has "a whole laundry list" of fiscal measures the governor can impose -- everything from giving state workers furloughs to urging early retirements to removing phones from state cars -- to help cut spending without raising taxes.
"I don't really view this as a partisan issue," Ms. Sauerbrey added, citing as proof the anti-tax position of House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent. "I think it's a fiscal responsibility point of view."
TV coverage of speech
At least nine television stations are planning to offer live coverage of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's message on the Maryland budget deficit, according to the governor's press office. Several radio stations around the state, including WBAL in Baltimore, also plan to broadcast the talk live. The press office said other radio and television stations may decide today to air the speech.
The speech, expected to last about 15 minutes, begins at 8 p.m.
The following television stations are planning to carry the speech:
* WBAL Baltimore * WHAG Hagerstown
* WJZ Baltimore * WBOC Salisbury
* WMAR Baltimore * WYVN Martinsburg, W.Va.
* WMPT Owings Mills * Cable 21 Rockville
* Newschannel 8, Montgomery County
Maryland Public Television plans analysis and reaction until TC p.m. WBAL and WJZ plan analysis and reaction until 8:30 p.m. WMAR, WBAL, WJZ and other stations around Maryland and in Washington plan more reaction on the 11 p.m. news.