Committee chief's resignation may start House of Delegates shake-up

September 11, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- The chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee resigned yesterday, beginning what is expected to be a broad midterm shake-up of the House of Delegates that is likely to affect how Maryland's budget crisis is resolved.

Charles J. "Buzz" Ryan Jr., 55, said he will leave the General Assembly Oct. 1 to take a newly created, $80,000-a-year job as a health policy adviser and lobbyist for the University of Maryland Medical System.

The private, non-profit system, which runs the University of Maryland Medical Center and the state's Shock Trauma Center, receives a small annual subsidy from the state as well as substantial financial help for capital construction.

Vice Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, a Democrat from West Baltimore, was immediately promoted by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, to take over the Appropriations committee, which reviews and oversees passage of the governor's budget each year.

Mr. Rawlings, 55, becomes the first black to chair a major committee in the House in six years.

Mr. Ryan is a Democrat from Prince George's County. The shift in the chairmanship to someone from Baltimore could benefit the city. Mr. Rawlings has already gained a reputation for using his position on the Appropriations Committee to help Baltimore gain state funds.

The change at the top of the Appropriations Committee is expected to be followed later this year by other changes. Mr. Mitchell is said to want to stack the committee with delegates willing to support his ideas for a broad restructuring of state government that will bring Maryland's spending patterns in line with its lower revenues.

After cutting nearly $1.6 billion in spending in the past two years, Maryland still faces a projected deficit for the current fiscal year estimated at $450 million to $500 million. House and Senate leaders have already ruled out another tax increase, meaning that further deep cuts in spending appear likely.

Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Ryan have been friends and colleagues since the late 1970s (Mr. Ryan was Mr. Mitchell's "campaign chairman" when Mr. Mitchell ran for speaker in 1986). But their relationship has been strained for most of the past year, primarily over fundamental differences in how Maryland should extricate itself from its nagging budget problems.

Mr. Ryan, a Massachusetts native who once worked for Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie and still keeps a picture of John F. Kennedy on his office wall, is viewed by his colleagues as a traditional liberal Democrat who believes strongly in the value of broad government social programs and who has been generally supportive of the taxes needed to pay for them.

Mr. Mitchell, by contrast, is an Eastern Shore conservative who has tried to persuade the legislature to change its spending habits to fit with the new economic realities of the 1990s. Insiders say the speaker was frustrated at his inability to get his budget cutting proposals past Mr. Ryan to be considered by his own Appropriations Committee during the 1992 session.

"Clearly, Buzz [Mr. Ryan] was one of the leading pro-tax advocates, and more importantly, I think Buzz was the main member of the House of Delegates that undermined the efforts of conservatives to get even consideration of proposals for downsizing," said House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County.

"Whether they came from [Mr. Mitchell] or from the Republicans didn't seem to matter," she added. "Clay's ideas didn't get any more attention by the leadership of that committee than the Republican proposals got."

Yesterday, both men denied that their budget differences were the reason for Mr. Ryan's sudden departure. "This is one initiated from this side of the desk, not the other," said Mr. Ryan, who acknowledged his new salary is much better than the $27,000 he earned as a delegate.

The 14-year veteran had already announced that he would not seek re-election in 1994.

Mr. Ryan said he, Dr. Morton I. Rapoport, president of the medical system, and Roger C. Lipitz, chairman of the system's board of directors, are friends and have talked for years about Mr. Ryan one day taking a job there. The talk became serious in the past two weeks, Mr. Ryan said, adding that agreement was reached over dinner Wednesday.

Mr. Ryan's job with the University of Maryland medical system will involve lobbying before the General Assembly and on Capitol Hill, he said.

The system receives about $4 million of its $300 million operating budget from the state, partly as a subsidy for the Shock Trauma Center and partly to cover pension costs for former state employees working there.

Mr. Rawlings, who is employed as assistant to the president of the Baltimore City Community College, said he did not anticipate any changes in the way the Appropriations Committee is run.

However other members of the House predicted he would be more likely to follow the speaker's orders than Mr. Ryan was.

Mr. Mitchell also is said to be considering replacing Del. John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee as part of a broader move to punish House leaders who refused to go along with the speaker's call during the 1992 session for support of a budget-balancing tax proposal.

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