ANNAPOLIS, MARCH 2 -- The chairman of the Maryland Senate's budget committee took to the chamber's floor today to defend the legislature against an embittered Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has accused lawmakers of a petty campaign to undermine him.
"Unfortunately, today we've been on Page 1 along with Palestine, Panama and the problems in South Africa," said Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, which has killed or winnowed several of Schaefer's favorite initiatives during the last few days.
"What has gone on does not make much sense," Levitan said, referring to the governor's declaration that his relations with the legislature had degenerated to that in "a war zone."
"I just want everybody to remember . . . we're taking a very responsible position and we're doing our job," Levitan said. "We think we need a little more cooperation and understanding in what the legislature is about and the fact we are full partners in the operation of government."
His unusual speech, which drew applause from fellow senators, appeared intended to send a message to Schaefer that the governor had placed too much of the blame for his recent travails on Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's).
"We're not by ourselves," Levitan told his Senate colleagues. "We're working hand in hand with the House of Delegates as we go."
Other legislators said today that they agreed with Levitan, and said Miller alone had not engineered the defeats, which have included the rejection of a math-science high school, the modification of a light rail plan, and budget cuts in the governor's cherished economic development initiatives. The budget committee has cut money for the construction of a golf course in Western Maryland, decreased the amount of money in a special fund to help lure or retain businesses and eliminated a new $10 million "contingency fund."
Lawmakers said that Miller and Schaefer are both strong-willed politicians who have clashed repeatedly, and said that the Senate president appeared to have delighted in the Senate's recent assertions of autonomy.
"I don't know if he's throwing fuel on the fire, but he's sure not helping any," Sen. Michael J. Wagner (D-Anne Arundel) said of Miller. But, Wagner said, "The governor is firing so many barrages out that Mike can look like a statesman. He never takes a shot at the governor."
"The governor is absolutely wrong," added Senate Republican Leader John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County. "I don't believe Mike Miller is lobbying against the governor's proposals."
Cade said one of Miller's actions that has infuriated the governor -- dividing Schaefer's higher education bill into four parts -- actually was Cade's suggestion.
Even senators who have clashed with Miller defended him today.
Sen. John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County) said Miller "had nothing to do with" rejection of the administration's proposed math-science high school.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent) said he didn't believe that Miller was directing the Senate's reaction to Schaefer's proposals.
"As far as I know, it's not true," Mitchell said. "One of the things the governor needs to realize is that sometimes it takes even well-meaning legislation more than one year to pass."
"My golly," said Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Baltimore Republican. "If I took every bill that got killed personally, I'd sure go home in a blue funk."
Other leaders in the House agreed with Levitan that House and Senate fiscal leaders were in concert on the cuts the Senate is making in Schaefer's budget. Each year a different chamber takes the first action on the governor's budget, and it is the Senate's turn this year.
In his floor speech, Levitan noted that his committee's cuts amounted to about 1 percent of the governor's proposed $9.8 billion budget.
But legislators said they did not expect the governor to be consoled by that.
The result of the feud between Schaefer and the legislature, Coolahan said, "will be, one, that he's either going to sit down and talk and recognize that we're part of the process, or two, he's going to go into orbit. And I'm betting on orbit." Staff writers Robert Barnes and Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.