Schaefer's last week was costly

January 26, 1995|By Frank A. DeFilippo

INSTEAD OF the customary gold watch, William Donald Schaefer gave himself a cruise ship dock, a scenic railroad and a golf resort as retirement gifts.

Acting with determination as well as terrible swift speed, the three multi-million dollar projects were rammed through during Mr. Schaefer's final week as governor. And with them he left behind a paper trail of big-ticket bills.

Winning last-minute approval of the projects included a private briefing for Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille Maurer and an extraordinary hastily scheduled meeting of the state Board of Public Works on Monday, Jan. 16. That board's meetings are typically held on Wednesdays.

Mr. Goldstein and Ms. Maurer were briefed in advance of the board meeting on Jan. 11 by officials of the Maryland Port Authority to make certain that the cantankerous Mr. Goldstein did not gum up the cruise ship project in public as he often does when he disagrees.

The cruise ship pier, to be built in the Inner Harbor on the site of the old Allied-Signal Inc. chrome works plant, will cost the state $3.3 million in addition to $8.8 million the city will spend for infrastructure.

At the same board meeting, the state also agreed to buy the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad's meandering 15.6-mile mountainous right-of-way to help the struggling tourist train survive. The right-of-way purchase will cost the state $1 million as well as $100,000 a year in maintenance money.

And as a punctuation mark to his eight years as governor, Mr. Schaefer convened the Board of Public Works for the final time on Jan. 16 to push through a controversial deal that the state had been unable to close for 10 years.

The accommodation approved by the board calls for the sale of $15 million worth of tax-exempt bonds to a private investor to help underwrite a $34.4 million convention center and golf course at Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland.

And Mr. Schaefer, ever the benevolent despot, remembered his old friends as well. Another parting shot of the purse was a $75,000-a-year contract for Helen Delich Bentley as a time-honored tradition of "midnight appointments" by papering the bureaucracy with loyal staffers in cushy high five-figure salaries.

Top ranking aides to Mr. Schaefer were privately opposed to the cruise ship pier. They noted that a cruise ship dock already exists at Dundalk and only a dozen ships a year come calling. Moreover, the dock is so far in-land it will take extra steaming time for boats to make the trip.

The Allied-Signal property is on the edge of an 11-acre parcel that is being developed by the impresario of the hamburger bun, John A. Paterakis of H&S Bakery, a political chum of Mr. Schaefer as well as Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

The tract runs from Little Italy to Fells Point and eventually will bracket a $350 million waterfront colony of marinas, houses, offices and retail space and now, with the promise of the gift-dock, maybe an additional hotel as well.

Mr. Schaefer also left behind a $14.5 billion budget that would have soaked up every dime the state has in its vaults. But three days later, as was expected, Mr. Schaefer's bloviated budget was superseded but barely crimped by his successor, Gov. Parris Glendening.

In effect, Mr. Schaefer's budget was wearing a toe tag when it arrived and it's now a symbolic gesture that's consigned to the trash compactor.

Mr. Schaefer would have increased spending by 7.3 percent -- or $674 million -- nearly 3 percent more than what Mr. Glendening has proposed in the first pronounced stylistic departure in governance from the high-flying Schaefer years.

To scoot around Mr. Schaefer's spending plans, Mr. Glendening reduced the growth rate to 4.5 percent, partly at the expense of state employees. He cut Mr. Schaefer's proffered 2.5-percent pay raise to 2 percent and promised to reduce the state work force by 1,200 jobs as they become vacant.

But in the catch-penny world of budgeting, after shuffling the money and presenting the appropriate measure of smoke-and-mirror razzle-dazzle, Mr. Glendening's budget is a mere $31 million less than Mr. Schaefer's. Mr. Schaefer's was $14.518 billion and Mr. Glendening's is $14.487 billion.

So for the people who wanted an antidote to Mr. Schaefer, Mr. Glendening's their kind of guy. In contrast to Mr. Schaefer's template "Do It Now," crash-dummy style of governing, maybe Mr. Glendening won't do it all -- for awhile, anyway, until the subject is studied mercilessly.

Mr. Glendening's all "cogito, ergo sum" -- I think therefore I am.

Instead of Mr. Schaefer's Tinkertoy world of piers, railroads and golf resorts, we'll get 50-minute scholarly dissertations on government finance -- that just happens to be Mr. Glendening's classroom specialty.

Nonetheless, democracy in action doesn't come cheap.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes from Owings Mills on Maryland politics.

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