House provision ends public works' OK for top executives' pay; Schaefer, Dixon protest, ask Senate finance panel to eliminate amendment


When Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to give a high-ranking member of his administration a raise, he must seek the approval of two of his most vocal critics, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon.

An obscure provision inserted into a bill passed by the House of Delegates would change that.

The legislation would eliminate the authority of the Board of Public Works to review salary increases awarded to top-level state executives.

Previous use of power

Schaefer and Dixon, who sit with Glendening on the three-member board, have used that power on several occasions to hold up raises for senior administration officials.

The provision was part of an 11th-hour amendment drafted by state budget officials and added to the legislation in the House Appropriations Committee. With most House members in the dark about the change, the bill sailed through the House 137-2.

Schaefer and Dixon -- who found out about the amendment after the House passed the bill March 26 -- are protesting.

"What we have here is a backdoor effort to take away the authority of the Board of Public Works," said Dixon, who promised to raise the issue at the board's meeting today.

Schaefer could not be reached to comment, but he and the treasurer wrote to the Senate Finance Committee, asking its members to eliminate the House amendment.

Dixon said the amendment was a textbook example of a "snake" -- language that slithers into a bill, usually late in the legislative session, with effects that are unknown to most legislators.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a close friend of Schaefer who was unaware of the provision, said Dixon could be right.

"It's taken away a check and balance on executive pay," Taylor said.

A Republican member of the Appropriations Committee said the implications slipped by him.

"Looks like I blew it," said Howard County Del. Robert L. Flanagan, who voted for the bill. "We put the fox in charge of the chicken coop here."

Frederick W. Puddester, the state budget secretary, said the administration amendment was grafted onto a bill implementing its collective bargaining agreement with state employees late in the process because a consultant's report came in only recently.

'Not meant to be sneaky'

"It was not meant to be sneaky, devious or anything of that nature," Puddester said. "We have fully disclosed this issue to both committees."

Del. Wheeler R. Baker, chairman of the subcommittee that reviewed the bill in the House, said the panel received a full explanation from Puddester before amending the bill.

The Upper Shore Democrat said the board should not be involved in "micromanagement" of the executive branch.

When the bill was on the floor, House members were told the amendment "modifies the executive pay plan to allow for minimum and maximum salary rates."

Baker, the bill's floor leader, said he didn't describe the board provision because he didn't think it would be an issue.

Puddester told the Finance Committee yesterday that the amendment would exempt the salaries of about 150 top appointees from board review.

He said the governor should have the prerogative to set the pay of his top officials within a range set by the General Assembly. For cabinet secretaries, the bill would set that range at $106,000 to $137,000.

Several hundred other state employees also would be moved into an existing pay plan that is exempt from board review.

But Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, Finance Committee chairman, said he would like to amend the bill to remove the provision bypassing the board.

"It just seems to me it's an end run," said Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat.

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