William S. ‘Ratch’ Ratchford II, longtime director of General Assembly’s Department of Fiscal Services, dies

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William S. “Ratch” Ratchford II, former longtime director of the General Assembly’s Department of Fiscal Services with a well-earned reputation for keeping governors and their budget directors honest, died Sunday of congestive heart failure at the Ginger Cove retirement community in Annapolis. He was 90.

“It was a time when the Maryland General Assembly was dominated by the executive branch and Bill Ratchford played a critical part in the modernization of the assembly,” recalled U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, who was speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1979 to 1986.


“He was brilliant and he knew how to work for the institution and not any one member, and he had the talent and knowledge to make it work. He knew all the nuances,” Mr. Cardin said. “He was respectful, engaging and listened well. He knew how to interact with people. He was so much a critical part of my success as speaker.”

William S. “Ratch” Ratchford II, pictured in 1996, in his Dept. of Fiscal Services office.

“Bill commanded respect in Annapolis and among all the committees. People respected him because he knew how to grasp the details of an issue and he knew the session was only 90 days,” said former Baltimore mayor and governor Martin J. O’Malley.


“Bill was conscientious and the reason the legislature is in the position it is is because of him. It is a highly-regarded state legislature, and the big difference between ours and others, is the staff, ” said Baltimore City 41st District Delegate Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg.

“The staff is nonpartisan and Bill epitomized that. He hired people who worked and are still working for the General Assembly. One of the reasons our bond rating is triple AAA is because we had Bill advising us,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “He understood the political process and used to say, ‘That’s something we didn’t do except when we do.’”

William Sawtelle Ratchford II, son of William S. Ratchford, superintendent of the Maryland Workshop for the Blind, and Margaret Collins Ratchford, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Homewood.

After graduating from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1950, Mr. Ratchford, who was known as “Ratch,” earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1954 from the University of Richmond.

After serving two years in the Air Force, he went to work at Black & Decker while attending night school at the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a second bachelor’s degree in business in 1960.

He then obtained a master’s degree in management and business in 1962 from the University of Maryland, College Park.

In 1964, he was named director of the Maryland Association of Counties, the forerunner of the Maryland Association of Counties.

He left the group in 1968 when he was appointed director of fiscal research for the Department of Fiscal Services, and in 1974, was named director of the General Assembly’s Department of Fiscal Services, now called the Administration and Finance Division.


His predecessor, Col. John Shriver, once imparted a piece of advice that ended up defining Mr. Ratchford’s career.

“I was testifying before a committee and talking about finding ‘alternative sources of revenue,’” Mr. Ratchford explained in a 1996 interview with The Baltimore Sun. “Colonel Shriver said, ‘Let me tell you something: There’s only one source of revenue for what we do in this government — it’s the taxpayers.’

“That has stayed with me all these years,” Mr. Ratchford said.

“He set the tone and standards for our staff which created the quality of the work we do. He knew the role of his staff was to raise issues and just not be a rubber stamp when it came to the budget,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

He added: “Bill clearly knew his role was to advise and counsel and get us to where we needed to go. He had principles and he knew how to lay out options. He knew what was doable.”

During his years in Annapolis, Mr. Ratchford’s career spanned five Maryland governors from Marvin Mandel to Parris N. Glendening, including the mercurial William Donald Schaefer, with whom he clashed.


Gov. Schaefer tried to make life difficult for him by calling him “The Auditor” or “The Analyst” in “public tirades,” while privately telling legislators he wanted him fired, according to The Sun.

William S. “Ratch” Ratchford II was a log canoe racing fan and enjoyed making homemade ice cream.

“Ratchford’s dueling with former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his budget director, Charles Benton, is the stuff of legislative lore and yarn-spinning,” observed veteran political commentator and writer Frank A. DeFilippo in a 1997 Baltimore Business Journal article.

Cool under fire and gifted with an even-keeled disposition, Mr. Ratchford oftentimes in the closing days of the legislative session, found himself cast in the role of peacemaker between battling House and Senate committees.

“He doesn’t get rattled, and he doesn’t get irritated — even though he has to keep reinventing the wheel with each new generation of legislators, every four years,” the late Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., told The Sun.

“He is the one indispensable person, in terms of the legislature having a complete handle on the state’s $14 billion budget,” he said. “I know there are other people in the wings, but he has such a wealth of experience and a storehouse of knowledge that he is able to bring to the table at any given moment.”

Former House speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who died Monday, described Mr. Ratchford in a 1996 Sun article as the “institutional memory on the fiscal condition of the state of Maryland.”


It was Mr. Ratchford’s deft hand that guided Maryland through the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s and the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, while helping to keep the state’s valued triple AAA bond rating, which it still maintains.

“The city would not have survived without additional financial help from the State of Maryland because Bill knew how to work the formulas,” Gov. O’Malley said.

“Just last week on the phone, I told him he had saved an entire city. He was our guiding light, but could do these things without breaking the bank,” he said. “His knowledge and creativity allowed him to call balls and strikes. He was like Pele, always on the field, and always on the ball.”

Mr. Ratchford helped shape the legislation that set the state’s voluntary spending limits and is acknowledged for establishing the state’s “circuit breaker” program that assists the elderly and poor by capping property taxes based on income.

He was responsible for overseeing a department with an annual budget of $13.5 million and more than 200 employees who monitored state agencies.

“To the folks on the street, the Ratchford name is barely, if at all, recognizable,” wrote Mr. DeFilippo. “But within the walls of government, Ratchford’s authoritative testimony signals a done deal. His very word can block a budget, kill a tax plan or send legislation zinging toward approval.”


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Mr. Ratchford retired in 1997.

In addition to being a member of the board of Severn School he was on the board of the Maryland School for the Blind, now called Blind Industries and Services for the Blind, until his death.

For 43 years, he and his wife, the former Nancy Tickner Bertsch, a retired Maryland School for the Blind educator and founder of a Prince George’s County program for the visually impaired, lived in Whitehall Creek in Annapolis, where Mr. Ratchford could indulge his passion for sailing.

He was also a log canoe racing fan and enjoyed making homemade ice cream, and summers in Bethany Beach, Delaware, and winters in Key West, Florida.

Mr. Ratchford was a communicant of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis.

Plans for services are incomplete.


In addition to his wife of 65 years, Mr. Ratchford is survived by two daughters, Linda R. Hesford of St. Margarets and Wendy R. Rhoe of Chester; and three grandsons.