Governor's agenda is piled high with ambitious goals SCHAEFER REVS UP FOR FINAL SESSION

January 12, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Here are facts of life that Gov. William Donald Schaefer would just as soon not hear:

He is 72 years old, and he is a lame duck.

Today he begins his final legislative session in the last of his eight years as governor. At least seven men and women are already jockeying to replace him because he is legally barred from succeeding himself again.

His response to all of this -- to paraphrase his own "Do it now!" dictum -- has been to "Ignore it now."

"We're going to work as if we were going to be here next year, and the year after that," Mr. Schaefer said last week, and those who have been working closest with him say that is the approach he has taken.

It's his nature, they say. He couldn't change if he wanted to.

"The idea of him relaxing or saying, 'Let them do what they want,' is ridiculous. There isn't a chance of that happening," said Walter Sondheim, a longtime friend and confidante in Baltimore. "Everything that man has always wanted to do has always been like it was his last term. It is no different than it has always been."

After spending his entire adult life in public service -- in the Baltimore City Council, as mayor for 15 years, and finally as governor -- Mr. Schaefer has reached an age and point in his career when others with less drive might be scaling back, easing off, mellowing out.

If anything, Mr. Schaefer appears to be adding on, pressing harder, revving up.

As governor, he still has primary control over the state's nearly $13 billion budget and still has patronage authority over hundreds of appointments to boards, commissions and the judiciary -- powers he is not reluctant to use.

Nor are his final budget and legislative package expected to look like the work of someone who is on his way out.

Rather, all indications are that his final program will be robust, filled with new approaches to old problems (such as a residential school for disruptive students) as well as some old approaches to old problems (such as a determined new push, for the fourth consecutive year, to convince the General Assembly to ban certain firearms.)

His aides say many of the issues Mr. Schaefer intends to push will not be surprising. They will reflect the governor's continuing personal concern for schools where students do not learn, for streets where it is unsafe to walk, and for illnesses, social problems and even crimes that could be prevented with early intervention.

The governor himself said: "If everyone had a good house, if everybody had a job, if everybody had good health, then I'd be fine."

But aides say Mr. Schaefer has been extremely frustrated that the state's economy has not produced the amount of money he had hoped would be available for the various educational and social programs he believes are needed.

After four boom years in his first term, his second has been a long, desperate fight to keep the state afloat financially.

"With more money, he could do more, do it faster, nail it down more, assure it is going to get done and insure that it lasts," said one longtime staffer, who asked not to be named.

Now, the economy finally is showing signs of improvement, but it is bittersweet news to Mr. Schaefer. The revenue curve has begun to turn up too late to provide him much help.

He says he was convinced to let a temporary tax on Maryland's wealthiest citizens expire in the name of economic development. But some lawmakers say they expect Mr. Schaefer to propose an increase in the tax on cigarettes as well as increases in fees for some government services. Two sources in Annapolis said yesterday that they believe the governor will propose a hike in the cigarette tax of 25 cents a pack.

Those who have been dealing with the governor day in and day out describe him as generally upbeat and focused. He has even hired a personal trainer to help him stay fit physically. Some say he frequently mentions that this is his final year, using it to explain his urgent approach to issues.

Others, curiously, say they never hear such words pass his lips -- that it is too obvious, and painful, for him to talk about.

At a Cabinet meeting last week, the governor played the role of coach before the last big game, delivering a pep talk to his loyal secretaries.

"He reminded us that government goes on. He urged us not to let down," recalled Mark L. Wasserman, the secretary of Economic and Employment Development, a close aide to Mr. Schaefer since their City Hall years together and perhaps the Cabinet secretary who knows the governor best.

"He definitely impressed upon us the fact that he wants this administration to go out on a high note, with our heads held high, proud of the accomplishments we have made," Mr. Wasserman said.

He and others said Mr. Schaefer began focusing on what he wanted to accomplish during the session earlier than usual, beginning last summer with a series of brainstorming sessions with the Cabinet.

"Nothing was off the table," Paul E. Schurick, chief of staff, said.

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