ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer came into office proclaiming that Maryland is a rich state that doesn't need new taxes. Eight months into the job, he still believes it's wealthy -- but perhaps not wealthy enough.

Schaefer has admitted since becoming governor that many of his views of the state and its well-being were drawn from his office at City Hall in Baltimore, where for 15 years as mayor he was solely concerned with his poverty-plagued city.

From Baltimore, a city suffering from a dwindling number of taxpayers and the problems of providing for some of the state's poorest citizens, the state seemed to have a full purse and limited needs. And during his campaign last year, Schaefer derided his opponent for seeking to add a penny to the state's sales tax for school programs.

But now Schaefer says he knows differently..

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg "and I have been going over the state and . . . seeing firsthand the needs of the state," Schaefer said at a press conference last week.

"We've got a lot of the fundamentals to rebuild," he added when referring to the state's sewer system, roads and schools.

Two recent actions underscore Schaefer's concern about the state's ability to spend money on the bricks-and-mortar projects he favors, and neither is playing well in the Washington suburbs.

The first is Schaefer's endorsement of an initial recommendation from a special commission that counties start paying a larger share of the cost of building schools, a retreat from the state's nearly 15-year-old policy of paying for school construction.

The other is his announcement of the formation of the Commission to Review State Taxes and Tax Structure, a long-range committee with an ill-defined mission. Nonetheless, it is being viewed skeptically by officials in Maryland's wealthiest counties, who well remember Mayor Schaefer's frequent pleas before state officials for money from the rich to help the poor in his city and his support for a lawsuit seeking state aid for education in poor jurisdictions.

Schaefer, who now insists he serves a wider audience, has bent over backward to try to calm officials who believe the commission will find ways to share their wealth.

"This is not a study to remove the wealth from one area and put in another area. Just the opposite," Schaefer said. "It's to try to maintain and increase the prosperity that certain areas have achieved, and we will do that. We also want to help the poor areas meet the needs of their people."

While the commission is not supposed to make legislative proposals until January 1991 and is charged with looking at a whole range of revenue and spending issues, officials from Montgomery and Howard counties, especially, are wary.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the reason {for the study} is for us {wealthy counties} to help the poor counties," said one Montgomery County official. "Maybe that's all right. The question is how much."

A letter from the Greater Baltimore Committee, a group of business leaders from that area, urging Schaefer to appoint the commission also suggests that the commission should look at more than taxes.

"We share your deep understanding of the painful disparities among our citizens," the letter said. "Therefore, we believe that your study should include an evaluation of the state aid formulas."

Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery) said that the so-called "equalization formulas" already are onerous enough on wealthy Montgomery County, and he expressed concern that the commission might come up with an equalization formula on the local jurisdictions' "piggy-back" on the state income tax. That move would reduce the amount wealthy jurisdictions can keep.

Schaefer also said that the commission was not charged with recommending tax increases. But the work of his other advisory panel might make such a step necessary.

The commission considering changes in the school construction formula will make its final recommendations next month, but it is almost sure to propose a sliding scale for state help in building schools. The richest counties would pay 50 percent of the costs, the poorest would pay 25 percent.

Local governments, of course, don't want the state to back off of its commitment of paying the entire costs of building schools. But in reality the state never had the money to do that anyway, and counties such as Montgomery eager to ease the crowding in schools have picked up part of the state's share.

Schaefer has made it clear that he believes the state has other things to spend its money on, and said the annual $60 million contribution the commission is suggesting for the state might still be too high.

The political reality of that is not lost on local officials. If taxes are going to be raised to pay for new schools, it will be up to them to bite the bullet.

Who's still counting?

Schaefer's appointment of former Baltimore finance director Charles L. Benton Jr. to be his budget chief means that in six of the eight changes Schaefer has made in the cabinet left by Gov. Harry Hughes, Schaefer has chosen someone who worked for him in Baltimore.

In addition, Schaefer's personal staff on the second floor of the State House came practically intact from City Hall, from his program director to his chauffeur (who now runs the governor's mansion).

Schaefer was livid at a Baltimore Evening Sun story last week that pointed that out. Such "brilliant" stories, the governor said, "divide this state right down the middle."

Schaefer's hiring practices don't, you understand, just the stories.