Maryland's two highest-ranking legislative leaders angrily insisted yesterday that they will go to court to stop him if Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. presses ahead with a renovation of the State House without their approval.
In a meeting with reporters, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch said that if the governor proceeds with his plans - which entail evicting the State House press corps from its offices -he will violate state law, and they vowed to stop him.
"It would be a breach of public faith and an abuse of power," Busch said in a telephone interview.
The brouhaha began last week when the Department of General Services sent letters to State House reporters ordering them to vacate by midmonth the basement quarters their news organizations have occupied since at least 1961.
The space, they were told, was needed for gubernatorial staff members who were being displaced by renovations to update water pipes and air conditioning in the State House. (The press corps was later given an additional two weeks to get out.) Busch and Miller objected because they had not been involved in any of the decisions. The governor, they said, does not have authority over the State House and its surrounding grounds. By statute, they said, that responsibility rests with a four-member panel, the State House Trust, on which Busch and Miller sit.
Busch said he was not satisfied after meeting late last week with Boyd K. Rutherford, the secretary of general services, and Steve Kreseski, Ehrlich's chief of staff. Busch said they did not provide details about the renovations and how they intended to use certain space. He also learned, he said, that some of the plans impinged on legislative activities.
In a letter to Ehrlich yesterday, Busch and Miller demanded that all construction and relocations cease until the State House Trust meets. The other members of the trust are Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and J. Rodney Little of the Maryland Historical Trust.
Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman, expressed surprise that Busch and Miller were preoccupied by the issue. "There are more pressing issues in Maryland than rusty pipes in the State House," she said. "The fact that a work order is turning into a political issue is ridiculous."
Busch and Miller said they were further incensed yesterday morning to learn that the Historic Annapolis Foundation had been ordered out of the Old Treasury Building, which is on the State House grounds.
"It's bad when the chief lawmaker of the state isn't going to follow the laws of Maryland," Busch said.
Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.