ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 18 -- Three General Assembly committees today turned down Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to begin quarterly payments to depositors of Maryland's failed savings and loan institutions.
While the committees reaffirmed the legislature's pledge to repay by December 1989 the 18,000 depositors of the defunct First Maryland and Old Court S&Ls, they decided by lopsided votes that the accelerated payment plan espoused by Schaefer was fiscally too risky.
The Joint Legislative Policy Committee, whose approval is needed before the payments could begin, will take a formal vote on the issue Friday, but today's action effectively dooms the chances for it.
"I do not blame the legislature," Schaefer told reporters after the committees' votes. "The legislature acted responsibly from a fiscal standpoint."
This was Schaefer's second unsuccessful attempt to speed up the process for repaying the depositors. Last year, he and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg had to abandon an attempt to sell bonds to raise the money needed for an immediate repayment plan because experts warned the move could endanger the state's AAA credit rating.
Schaefer said he would not try to get the legislature to reconsider and that he would not propose another plan to accelerate the payments. "I'm not going to raise the expectations of people again," Schaefer said.
Schaefer had wanted the money set aside by the General Assembly for the December 1989 payments to be used for the quarterly plan, which would have begun immediately.
But William S. Ratchford II, director of the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services, told lawmakers that they face several uncertainties that make such a plan risky. It is unknown exactly how much money the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund will need for other liabilities created by the 1985 savings and loan crisis, such as those of smaller, failed S&Ls and a possible federal income tax debt, he said.
Ratchford also said the state would lose about $10 million in interest that would accrue if the money were withheld until the end of 1989.
The committees -- the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees -- also heeded Ratchford's advice and said Schaefer should put aside $100 million for the coming fiscal year, rather than the $77 million he has earmarked, for the repayment plan. That would decrease the amount of money the state will eventually have to borrow to meet the repayment plan, Ratchford said.
But Schaefer said he would not agree to that. He wants to use the money for other projects, he said.
Legislators were never taken with the quarterly payment plan, and some complained privately that Schaefer had put them in an uncomfortable position by announcing the proposal before securing their support. Ratchford and some legislators who opposed the plan were met with boos from depositors who jammed a hearing on the issue last week.
Schaefer said today that legislators have done a good job in trying to repay the depositors and should not be blamed for being fiscally conservative.
A few legislators on the committee, however, felt that Schaefer was right, and the state has the money to begin quarterly payments.
"All the evidence shows . . . that we can afford to make more progress in making the depositors whole," said Del. James Rosapepe (D-Prince George's).