Schaefer's Hammer

March 27, 1994

With just two weeks remaining in this year's General Assembly session, a solitary figure could play an important role in shaping the outcome of various legislative disputes: Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Though he is a lame duck with little clout left in the House and Senate, Mr. Schaefer can still wield -- or threaten to wield -- the power of his office to get his way on certain issues.

His most impressive power, at this late stage in his governorship, is a negative one. Mr. Schaefer's veto cannot be overridden this year because it is the end of the legislature's four-year term. If the governor lets it be known he will veto a measure, House and Senate leaders ought to take the cue and bury that bill rather than waste valuable time on a measure that is headed for certain demise.

Such should be the case for the "English-only" bill -- a pointless, unnecessary measure with racist and anti-immigrant implications -- that has found favor in the Senate but not the House of Delegates. The same holds true for a bill seeking a waiver of the 180-day rule for school attendance this year. It's a bad case of legislative micromanagement in educational affairs and one that sends the wrong message about the importance of education. The governor says he'll veto the bill if it lands on his desk. And he's sure to get his way.

Similarly, Mr. Schaefer holds a potent hammer in the legislature's budget debate. Lawmakers want to reshape the governor's budget request and reshuffle about $200 million to fit their own priorities. But the Senate -- especially President Thomas V. Mike Miller -- doesn't want to consider a 12.5-cent increase in the cigarette tax to pay for a big boost in local school construction.

Mr. Schaefer's role is key. No budget money can be recycled without the governor's assent. Without a supplemental request from Mr. Schaefer, all legislative plans for revamping budget priorities are shot. And the governor says he won't submit any supplemental budgets unless Mr. Miller and the Senate approve a higher cigarette tax.

That leaves senators in a bind. If there is no supplemental budget, legislators can't shift funds around to get what they want. Better to cave in to Mr. Schaefer's demands than go home empty-handed to constituents in this election year.

Governor Schaefer has been unusually quiet this legislative session. Yet he still could wind up with a successful final haul from the Assembly. His negative power in these last few weeks may prove his most effective weapon.

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