A special commission all but decided yesterday to recommend boosting the salary of Maryland's next governor to $60,000 a year while calling for stricter accounting of the governor's $40,000-a-year mansion expense fund.
The tentave recommendation to more than double the governor's annual pay of $25,000 a year received unanimous approval at a meeting of the Governor's Salary Commission. A final vote was put off unti Dec. 15 because one member was absent.
"A lot of the excuses given for the recent problems in Maryland were that the governor's salary is too low," said Frank A. Gunther, Jr., a commission member. "We feel we should make the salary enough so that the temptation won't be there."
The sufficiency of the governor's salary was an issue at the political corruption trial of Gov. Marvin Mandel last summer, Mandel, who was convicted of taking valuable gifts from codefendants in exchange for his help in enriching their business interests, said he accepted the gifts in part because his salary was too low to meet the extraordinary financial demands of his first wife in arranging a divorce.
"We hope to give a governor a large enough salary so that he can't make that type of excuse," Gunther said referring to Mandel's defense.
The seven-member commission - created by a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year - will submit its recommendations to the General Assembly in January. If the legislature takes no action on the recommendation, the pay increase will automatically take effect at the start of the new four-year gubernatorial term in 1979.
While tentatively deciding to boost the governor's pay, the commission called for a better accounting of the expense fund allowed a governor to pay for food and supplies. There is no requirement now that the account be available to the public, Gunther said.
"How do we know that the governor isn't taking a trip to Florida and charging it off as household expenses?" Gunther asked. "We're not saying the fund was abused. But it is possible under present guidelines. We think the public has a right to know how it is used."
The commission also reached tentative agreement to recommend changes in the 1971 law setting a governor's pension at half the salary of the incumbent, or $12,500 a year under current salary conditions.
Anticipating adverse public reaction to an annual pension of $30,000 (half of the $60,000 recommended salary), the commission tentatively called for a yearly pension of $20,000 beginning at age 55.
At the same time, the commission agreed to freeze the pensions of Mandel and the only other living former Maryland governor, J. Millard Tawes, at $12,500 a year plus cost-of-living increases.
"We felt it would be such a windfall to go from $12,500 a year to $20,000 a year that people would raise their eyebrows," Gunther explained. "They (Mandel and Tawes) went into office understanding that ($12,500) was what it would be."
Gunther said the commission also will suggest that the legislature review the financial disclosure requirements for Marylands governors and lieutenant governors and place a limit on the value of gifts the state's top leaders can accept from businesses regulated by the state.