Schaefer erupts in anger over cut to office's budget

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ANNAPOLIS -- As the General Assembly began the politically unpalatable task yesterday of slashing $191 million in programs to get next year's state budget in balance, Gov. William Donald Schaefer interrupted the process by throwing a public tantrum over a $200,000 cut to his office's budget.

"Two hundred thousand dollars to my budget, to MY budget!" Mr. Schaefer growled to a startled Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that had recommended the routine and -- in Mr. Maloney's words -- "minuscule" reduction.

Governor Schaefer's complaint about the cut to his office's $6.6 million budget came even as chairmen of three Appropriations subcommittees were reminding department officials that this was a particularly difficult budget year.

Although he said nothing to the subcommittee directly, Mr. Schaefer stormed into Mr. Maloney's private office, with the door slamming closed behind him.

"This was a minor cut by comparison -- a minuscule part of the governor's budget," Mr. Maloney said afterward. "I had no idea it'd be a nuclear reaction."

The governor refused to comment as he left. But before he was even out of the building, House Speaker R.

Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Appropriations Chairman Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's, were before Mr. Maloney's subcommittee -- "they rushed in like the fire department," Mr. Maloney later said -- to tell committee members to stick by their guns.

Do not change your mind, Mr. Ryan urged, just because "someone comes out and starts jumping up and down."

The governor's unexpected visit and outburst came on a day when the three subcommittees made preliminary recommendations to trim approximately $38.5 million from various government programs; a day in which a seemingly dead Schaefer initiative to build a golf course and conference center in Western Maryland sprang back to life; and a day in which officials from two New York bond rating agencies told lawmakers it probably would not affect the state's triple-A bond rating if Maryland made a "one-time only" decision to sell an extra $88 million in bondsto buy a group of office buildings in downtown Baltimore.

During hours of budget deliberations, the three subcommittees voted to:

* Delay construction of the Timonium-to-Hunt-Valley section of the Central Light Rail line until a federal environmental impact analysis and a complete capital cost estimate had been completed and federal funds equivalent to 75 percent of the cost the construction were in hand. The delay would last until at least early 1992.

* Strip from the budget $3.1 million the governor had wanted to spend to help local governments implement his proposed "2020" growth management plan -- a cut that demonstrated that House leaders were serious about sending the controversial land-use planning proposal to summer study.

* Reduce from a proposed $950,000 to $475,000 the subsidy the state would pay to operate the Baltimore Zoo. The remaining subsidy is still more than three times the $150,000 subsidy the state now pays for the zoo.

* Cut by almost $1 million the amount of money available to state senators to dispense in senatorial scholarships.

* Postpone for a year construction of a police and prison guardtraining center in Sykesville, saving $7.2 million.

* Save $180,000 by eliminating four vacant social worker jobs at Patuxent Institution, partly in recognition of a new report that showed Patuxent's psychological counseling programs had little or no effect on recidivism.

In three rooms spread throughout the House office building, the subcommittees played their annual version of "Let's Make A Deal," bargaining with a steady stream of bureaucrats over proposed cuts, trying to determine which of their programs they considered essential.

Uncertain in some cases, the lawmakers split the difference with the bureaucrats; in other cases, they were convinced the money must be spent despite the state's serious budget woes.

Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services, for instance, persuaded Mr. Maloney's panel to leave $290,000 in the budget for six jobs in his increasingly busy prison construction unit.

Down the hall before another subcommittee, Robert Perciasepe, the new Department of the Environment secretary, bargained with Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, over specific program cuts but acknowledged, "I know you have to make cuts here."

The Appropriations Committee is trying to find $191 million in reductions -- twice the amount taken in a normal year -- to offset a $115 million drop in revenues and a $76 million budget-balancing transfer of transportation funds that Mr. Schaefer recommended but legislators do not want to make.

To balance the budget, lawmakers had already persuaded Mr. Schaefer to give up $7.2 million previously appropriated for the Rocky Gap golf course and convention center. But the project's biggest supporter, Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, secured a commitment from the General Assembly's presiding officers yesterday to borrow the money if a financial commitment to build the 240-room hotel could be nailed down within the next two or three weeks.

"The golf course is a cat with nine lives, and it ain't going to die," Mr. Taylor said.

Some of yesterday's program reductions -- such as to a "resident state trooper" program that provides law enforcement assistance to several rural counties -- are being made contingent upon passage of new tax increases that have not yet been agreed upon or specifically identified.

Mr. Maloney said applying the 5 percent sales tax to cigarettes was one tax change on the table, but there probably will be others.

An agreement on the tax portion of the package may not come until next week when the budget is before the full House of Delegates.

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