For Schaefer, some things (the T-word) better left unsaid Schaefer avoids talk about taxes in his televised chat.

December 18, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

It wasn't until after the studio lights were turned off that Gov. William Donald Schaefer finally mentioned the "T word."

Yes, he'd support raising some taxes, he told reporters last evening as he was leaving the State House after delivering his first electronic "fireside chat" on the state's budget problems.

"Possibly a modified income tax -- graduated," Schaefer offered. And a rise in the sales tax -- if the tax is expanded to cover items and services that are now exempt.

People who know details of the state budget crisis are aware that new revenues must be raised, he said.

But no, he continued, it wasn't his intention to offer specific solutions to Maryland's money woes. He tried that last winter with his $800 million tax plan and was pounced on by legislators and other critics.

"I'm not going to mention taxes," he said. "I took nine months of pretty heavy pounding from everybody."

Schaefer said the purpose of his broadcast was to explain the fiscal crisis to the average Marylander who, he speculated, hadn't gotten the word.

"You haven't really told the people what the problem is," Schaefer said to reporters. "I shouldn't have to do this. I shouldn't have to spend 18 minutes of prime-time television," which he admitted, may not have been "exactly as exciting as a movie."

In his message, Schaefer said the recession has been particularly hard on Maryland because its economic base has shifted from manufacturing to services.

He has had to make cuts to avoid a $675 million deficit this year. The state faces another deficit of $700 million to $800 million next year.Medicaid and welfare rolls are up.

Costs for such routine services as education, health care, welfare and prisons are so great that even if revenues go to funding only basic services, Maryland will be about $100 million in the red next year.

Schaefer said he has tried to balance the budget by cutting fat, eliminating 5,000 positions and calling upon state workers to take off up to five days without pay.

"We've got to recognize that government will never be the same," he said.

Without offering details, Schaefer said the answer to Maryland's fiscal crisis lies in changing the way services are provided, in pushing for preventive health care, in boosting school performance and in relying upon volunteers.

He called upon Marylanders to spend liberally during the holiday shopping season to help boost the revenues the state receives from the sales tax.

The broadcast was the first such address since 1985, when then-Gov. Harry R. Hughes talked to the public about the savings and loan crisis.

The chat was embraced by those who have been working on budget problems for the past 15 months.

"The governor is the only person in the state who, by his position, can act as the government spokesman," said Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's. He said Schaefer's address "indicates the severity and the significance of the [budget] situation."

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