Will the defendants please enter the courtroom. . .
The five of you -- William D. Schaefer, Louis L. Goldstein, Lucille D. Maurer, Roy C. Mitchell Jr. and Thomas V. Miller Jr. -- have been brought here today as alleged co-conspirators, charged with cooking the state's budget books. How do you plead?
All answer in unison: Not guilty.
Prosecutor: C'mon folks, fess up. All of you had a hand in pumping up the state's revenue estimates so badly we're $200 million in debt less than a month into the fiscal year. Any idiot could see there was no way income-tax receipts could rise 6 percent this year. We're in a dreary recession. People are still losing jobs. A 6 percent jump in this key tax source is pure fantasy.
Yet the five of you conspired to ignore reality to further your own agendas. Isn't that right?
Schaefer: I'm not involved. You can't pin this one on me. They gave me the wrong figures. It's that dreadful Board of Revenue Estimates -- that's the group which screwed up. It's all their fault. If they had given me accurate figures, we wouldn't be in this mess.
Prosecutor: But wait a minute. Your own budget secretary, Charles Benton, is on the Board of Revenue Estimates. He betrayed you? No way, Jose. He's a super-loyalist, and a very persuasive and determined ally. Charlie Benton is a powerful force on that three-member board.
L Schaefer: But they gave me the WRONG figures, you dumb twit!
Prosecutor: No, from your perspective, they were the right figures. In fact, you would have preferred even higher estimates to avoid all those painful budget cuts. Blue smoke and mirrors. You were trying to put one over on us. But it didn't work this time, did it?
Schaefer: Your comment only exceeds the ugliness of your face.
Prosecution: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your insults will never harm me.
Now, Mr. Goldstein, you were involved in this prevarication, too.
Goldstein: God bless y'all real good.
I've been comp-troller of the great state of Mur-lin since nineteen and fifty-eight. I came to the Mur-lin General Assembly from Cul-vert County in nineteen and thirty-nine. And never in all my years with my good wife Hazel have I seen such unpredictable economic times. We used six national economic forecasters to come up with our estimates.
Besides, being off by $200 million in a budget of $12 billion ain't hayseed, my friend. Why, that means we were 98.3 percent accurate.
Prosecutor: But isn't it also true, Mr. Goldstein, that by using the higher figures, you soothed an angry governor who can make life difficult for you as a member of the Board of Public Works? And didn't you, too, Mrs. Maurer, go along with these preposterously rosy numbers to avoid offending the governor or House Speaker Mitchell?
Maurer: You see, as state treasurer, I'm elected by the General Assembly, and Speaker Mitchell said he wanted nothing to do with higher taxes. So the best way to oblige him was to approve higher revenue numbers. Besides, he wants my job, so I've got to do what he wants.
As for the governor, he's not an easy person to deal with. Had I crossed him, he would have shouted and sulked at the Board of Public Works meetings. A living hell.
Prosecutor: So instead of playing it conservative, you and Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Benton went out on a limb looking for a quick economic recovery. Why didn't the legislature step in and demand truth-in-budgeting? Mr. Mitchell, you call the shots on fiscal matters. Your response?
Mitchell: All I can tell you is I wasn't involved in any shady land deals and I will never, ever again vote for higher taxes. Sure, these rosy revenue forecasts helped us avoid raising even more taxes last session, but so what? With a little bit of luck this fall, our economy will spring back and we'll be sitting pretty. Just you wait.
Prosecutor: So you're a wait-and-see kind of guy. Got an extra fiddle so Nero can join your band?
And how about your sidekick, Mr. Miller. What's his excuse for perpetuating this sham?
Miller: As president of the Maryland State Senate, I am deeply aware of the historic ramifications of the state's current fiscal predicament. Placed in its proper context, this is an appalling mess the governor has gotten us into, just another example of his pusillanimous leadership. He is a disgrace to his office. Besides, I don't know diddly squat about this budget stuff. When's the Terps' football season start?
Prosecutor: What a group! Your honor, this Gang of Five ought to get the ultimate penalty for their unspoken conspiracy: public flogging with a wet noodle. They have earned a public humiliation.
Judge: I couldn't agree with you more. Will the taxpayers in the courtroom take up their wet noodles and approach the defendants. As presiding officer of this taxpayers' coup, I, Melvin Steinberg, hereby declare the five of you guilty of cooking the budget books. And now, you're gonna get what you deserve!
Barry Rascovar is director of The Sun's editorial page.