Gov. Harry Hughes met privately with legislative leaders today to lay out his ideas for resolving the state's protracted savings and loan crisis during the next several months.
Lawmakers refused to give any details of the plan after the hour-long meeting but said they were confident a program will be available by the time the General Assembly convenes in January.
"We feel optimistic that there will be a successful plan," said Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg, who, along with House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, has been pressing Hughes to lay out a program detailing what steps he will take to try to solve the remaining problems of the troubled industry and how much state money will be required. The meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday, but Hughes had postponed it.
Legislative leaders are particularly eager for the governor to set a plan because of increasing concern about preserving the state's prized AAA bond rating.
Officials of Standard and Poor's, one of the firms that evaluates the state's credit rating, have demanded a specific plan before deciding whether to retain the premium rating, which allows the state to pay relatively low interest on bonds it sells.
Legislators, who want a plan available before the General Assembly convenes so that the fiscal implications can be considered when they set the state budget, said they hope to have details by the end of next week. Hughes' spokesmen had no comment on the meeting.
In other developments, Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund officials said they mailed letters to the approximately 22,000 depositors of First Maryland Savings and Loan today notifying them how to apply for withdrawals under the state's hardship withdrawal plan.
The Silver Spring thrift, one of the three savings and loans whose funds are frozen, was placed in conservatorship Nov. 20. Baltimore Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan on Wednesday admitted First Maryland customers to the hardship program that allows withdrawals for such items as tuition and real estate closings and necessities of life.
A spokesman for MDIF, First Maryland's conservator, said that some depositors may receive a portion of their funds by Christmas if they "act quickly."
Deposits also are frozen at Community Savings and Loan of Bethesda and Old Court Savings and Loan of Baltimore. Reports of a management shake-up at Old Court in May triggered a run on the thrift and the crisis in the state industry.
State officials announced that two additional thrifts have been granted federal deposit insurance, allowing them to lift the $1,000-per-month limit on withdrawals from their 45,000 accounts.
Sharon Savings and Loan and its wholly owned subsidiary Security, both based in Baltimore, received final approval after the state agreed to guarantee up to $5.2 million of their assets through bond anticipation notes. Three thrifts have used the notes, specially created by the state this year, to obtain federal insurance.
A MDIF spokesman said that except for the three associations where deposits are frozen, only 10 of 102 formerly state-insured thrifts remain under the $1,000-a-month withdrawal limit.
After today's meeting, which included leaders of the House and Senate fiscal committees, Steinberg said Hughes' plan would include various alternative strategies that the state would pursue if buyers are found for one or more of the three most damaged thrifts.