Worried that Gov. William Donald Schaefer may use his first electronic "fireside chat" this evening to lay groundwork for raising new revenues, anti-tax watchdogs have been asking area television and radio stations for air time to respond to the governor's remarks.
Schaefer, in an effort to address as many citizens as possible, will deliver a live 15-minute "message" about the state's economy at 8 p.m. from the State House in Annapolis.
His remarks will be broadcast live on at least 15 radio stations and nine television stations that blanket Maryland, including television channels 2, 11, 13, 67, and 22. More stations may decide to carry it at the last moment.
Among those who will be listening closely to the broadcast is Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Balto. Co., who planned to offer reaction to the governor's comments on at least two Baltimore television stations.
"It's been my assumption that the governor's message will paint an economic picture in such a way as to develop a climate of public opinion that would be sympathetic to a tax increase," said Sauerbrey, the House minority leader and an opponent of new taxes.
Schaefer aides said the governor will talk about the origins of the state's fiscal crisis and what government officials and citizens can do to bring some relief to the economy.
The broadcast, the first such address to the public since 1985, when then-Gov. Harry R. Hughes discussed the state's savings and loan crisis, is expected to deal with non-partisan issues and will be mostly explanatory, according to the governor's press office.
The governor will use charts to help with his presentation, but reportedly has changed his mind at least once about the contents of his remarks. He said yesterday that he had yet to decide what he will say.
But not everyone in television and radio land is ready to believe that.
"A lot of people are anticipating that he's going to call for a tax increase," said Emily Barr, program director for WMAR-TV, which will provide a pool crew for all television stations broadcasting the program.
Barr said callers have been asking to respond on the air to the governor's statements -- whatever they may be.
Television news directors were still deciding today how to deal with reactions to Schaefer's address. Some stations will broadcast reaction to Schaefer's message immediately after the speech. Others will wait for the late-night news program after interviews with supporters, opponents and taxpayers have been taped.
Stations are not required to offer equal time to competing viewpoints because the speech is not considered political.
"The governor is not running for office. That's the bottom line," explained Dave Roberts, associate news director of WBAL-TV. However, the station plans to offer analysis immediately after the governor finishes.
"By no means will we let the governor speak for 15 minutes without providing for sufficient review and analysis," Roberts said.
WJZ-TV will use analysis to fill whatever remains of the half-hour segment after Schaefer talks and return to the speech with interviews with "real people" for the 11 p.m. broadcast, said news director Gail Bending.
John D. O'Neill, of Maryland Taxpayers Association Inc., said he has called television stations to let them know he is available to comment on the governor's remarks.
O'Neill criticized the governor's handling of the state's budget problems and said Schaefer could balance the budget without cutting so deeply into local aid.
With the governor taking the lead, lawmakers have been forced to cut the state budget five times in the past 15 months. Schaefer announced a sixth round last week, saying another $225 million in spending has to be trimmed or shifted in order to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal year.
The governor's plan calls for state employees to take up to five days off without pay and for cuts of $142.5 million in state aid to local jurisdictions.
Schaefer has warned that the state could face a seventh round of budget cuts in the spring if sales revenues from the December holiday shopping period fall below projections. A large part of the current budget deficit has been the result of a drop in sales tax revenue.
TV coverage of the speech
Gov. William Donald Schaefer's speech on the state's economy will be broadcast live at 8 o'clock tonight in the Baltimore area on television channels 2, 11 13, 67 and 22.
At least 15 radio stations also will broadcast the 15-minute speech.