ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 21 -- In the first budget bearing his full imprint, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has been shortsighted, showing such zeal for new education, social service and economic development initiatives that he could leave Maryland in financial straits in the near future, members of the Senate's budget commitee said today.
The budget released yesterday would use up almost all of the state's $271 million surplus, and could lead to a big deficit by 1990, the legislators complained. And, they said, despite the administration's reckoning to the contrary, it exceeds the spending limits set by the General Assembly.
"It doesn't make sense to blow it in one year, no matter how worthwhile the programs are," said Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel).
Recalling Schaefer's exhortation last week that "this is the year of Maryland momentum," Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore) said, "There is a momentum all right, because we're eating up every cent we have."
The reaction from members of the Budget and Taxation Committee traced the first outlines of the financial tug-of-war that will unfold during the next three months between the lawmakers and Schaefer, a governor noted for his ambitious goals -- and his impatience with attempts to hinder them.
The reaction, too, cast the governor's $9.8 billion spending plan in a light different from the one seen by various interest groups around the state. The budget is delighting many Maryland teachers, college officials and social welfare activists, among others, who believe Schaefer has provided for them well.
But the lawmakers said yesterday that the state's finances could be destabilized by the array and size of the governor's program. It includes, for instance, an additional $57 million for Maryland colleges, $38.5 million for prisons and $43 million to start a light rail line through Baltimore. Most troubling to legislators, the budget also includes a $20 million reserve fund for economic development projects and a $10 million unspecified reserve fund, both of them controlled primarily by the governor.
"The way things are going now," Cade said, "we are going to have slush funds stashed all over the budget."
The lawmakers were specifically critical of Schaefer's decision to incorporate into his budget all but $12 million of the state's $271 million budget surplus. The strategy is unwise, they said, because it would eliminate the state's financial buffer against an economic downturn and it would essentially commit the state to big budgets in the future.
During a briefing to the committee, Maryland's fiscal services director told lawmakers he shared their fears. If Schaefer's budget is approved and its initiatives extended into subsequent years, Maryland could have a $170 million deficit by the 1990 fiscal year, said William S. Ratchford II, the fiscal director.
Budget committee Chairman Laurence Levitan (D-Potomac) said he wants the committee to pare the governor's budget enough to leave a $70 million surplus. "That would give us a meaningful cushion," he said after the briefing.
As they began their examination of the budget, the legislators were mindful that Schaefer does not suffer opposition gladly. Lapides urged them to act independently, without fear of retribution. "He needs to understand . . . this is not a personal affront to him. If we whack out the $20 million economic development fund, it is not a personal thing against the governor."