Schaefer's Fiscal Prudence

June 10, 1994

Maryland's next governor will owe a big "thank you" to Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Before flying off to Europe for D-Day commemorations, Mr. Schaefer vetoed 41 bills on policy grounds, the chief reason being the outrageous price tag of many of these spending mandates. How outrageous? Try a minimum of $113 million in required new spending over the next four years.

As the governor concisely noted in a number of his veto messages, "I think it is unwise to tie the hands of future executives" with legislative wish lists that are so costly. Time and again, Mr. Schaefer reminded legislators in these messages that their free-spending ways in an election year were "fiscally unsound," "prohibitively expensive" and would mean "significant added costs."

Lawmakers even tried to massage Mr. Schaefer's ego to expand state spending: They proposed setting up the "Hilda Mae Snoops R.N. Fund" to hand out new grants to nursing programs. How could the governor possibly object to a program named after his longtime companion? But Mr. Schaefer wasn't that gullible. The bill would cost the state $313,000 in lost general fund revenues, he noted in his veto letter, at a time when the state nursing board already is flush with surplus cash.

Even more egregious, though, were attempts by lawmakers to sharply curtail the governor's budget-making and rule-making powers. The micro-management of state government by elected delegates and senators was in full blossom this past legislative session. One bill even attempted to re-write much of the governor's budget and vastly rearrange state spending. It was a blatant attempt to intrude on the executive's powers. A veto was richly deserved.

Had it not been for these vetoes -- which cannot be overridden in the final year of a governor's term -- the next chief executive would have immediately started off with a built-in budget deficit. Two other bills that, unfortunately, the governor did sign -- mandating increased tourism spending and arts spending -- would bring the total four-year spending binge to $125 million. For a state still slowly recovering from the recession, that's too much of an added fiscal burden.

One warning from Mr. Schaefer is especially apt. "The Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning has predicted that in the near future, the growth in spending as a result of existing statutory requirements will far outweigh projected revenue growth," the governor wrote. In other words, mandates from the General Assembly threaten to bankrupt this state. The next governor -- and especially the next legislature -- had better keep that admonition firmly in mind.

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