The unlikely friendship between Maryland Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening blossomed the day after the Nov. 5 election. In a friendly phone call, Glendening promised Ehrlich abundant cooperation and a "smooth transition." At a packed news conference, Ehrlich called Glendening "a class act."
Since then, however, the prospect of an easy transfer from the liberal Democrat to the first Republican governor in more than three decades has evaporated.
The Ehrlich camp has grown increasingly furious as Glendening has embarked on a last-minute spending spree, attempting to push through a number of expensive proposals before leaving office.
The latest example: In negotiations Friday with public employees' unions, Glendening offered to raise wages for state workers by $100 million at a time when most budget experts say the state will be lucky to avoid cutting pay.
Ehrlich, who is inheriting the worst fiscal crisis in at least a decade, has steadfastly refused to criticize Glendening. Yesterday, while making clear that the wage increase is "next to impossible," Ehrlich said: "We will deal with the reality. We're not going to whine. We're not going to complain."
But members of Ehrlich's transition team admit that their patience is wearing thin.
"I'm disappointed that we're not getting more help," said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset), one of a half-dozen people working to assemble Ehrlich's first budget. "There's been help up to a point, but it's not as serious as it could and should be."
Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), a fan of Ehrlich's who despises Glendening, was characteristically blunt. Trying to raise wages on the way out the door, he said, "is the dirtiest trick I've ever known any governor to do."
Glendening spokesman Charles F. Porcari called the Republicans' frustrations "fairly inevitable."
"The governor is obligated to work to implement his agenda up until his last day in office," Porcari said. "The governor is doing what he was elected to do."
More neutral observers -- and many Democrats -- also have been appalled by Glendening's apparent disregard for the state's financial situation. Many say his actions are reminiscent of his departure from Prince George's County, when he left incoming county executive Wayne K. Curry with a $100 million shortfall and a binding union contract that required raises and prohibited layoffs.
"It's the way he left Prince George's -- in the hole," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. "There are plenty of things that might be within his rights that are not necessarily prudent."
Raising workers' pay, for example, "is just not responsible," Crenson said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore) added: "I guess he wants to leave office making a statement about his progressive Democratic agenda, which has been rejected by the public. He's one of the most unpopular governors we've ever had to leave office, but he's just committed to make these political statements."
Two weeks ago, Schaefer said he met with Ehrlich and warned him to be more cautious in dealing with Glendening. Schaefer said he urged the governor-elect to publicly blame Glendening for worsening one of the toughest budget years since Schaefer occupied the governor's mansion.
"When [Ehrlich] said [Glendening] was a class act, that almost knocked me on the floor," Schaefer said. "There's a time to be nice. But the time to be nice to Glendening is long gone. [Glendening] hasn't done a thing but embarrass him. As soon as this bum walks off, it's up to Ehrlich. And people will forget real soon that it's Glendening who got him into this mess."
The dimensions of the problem came into sharper focus yesterday, as Schaefer and other members of the Board of Revenue Estimates delivered their official projections for the state's financial health. Plummeting tax revenue has finally leveled off, they agreed, which would leave Maryland with a deficit of about $550 million for the fiscal year ending in June.
The board projected a shortfall of nearly $1.2 billion if spending was continued at current levels in the next fiscal year. That would mean Ehrlich would have to slash more than 5 percent from the state's $21.6 billion budget or find substantial sources of new revenue.
Ehrlich has proposed legalizing slot machines, which could raise as much as $400 million, and he said yesterday that he is considering consolidating several agencies, including the departments of the environment and natural resources. But he has also vowed not to raise the sales and income taxes, not to lay off workers and not to cut aid to public schools or local governments -- promises that will be difficult to keep, according to the Democrats who control the General Assembly.
After that first telephone conversation on Nov. 6, Glendening met Ehrlich in Austin at a meeting of the National Governors Association and promised to find a way to leave the current year's budget in the black.
Last month, Glendening proposed an emergency plan to cut spending. But he has yet to order agencies to implement those reductions. Meanwhile, Schaefer and legislative leaders have said they are unlikely to approve other key parts of his budget-balancing plan.
While Glendening has failed to cut the budget, he has come up with a variety of new ways to spend money, most in service to his legacy as an environmentalist and a strong supporter of organized labor.
In mid-November, Glendening issued an executive order requiring the state and Maryland counties to improve sewage treatment plants as part of a regional effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Price tag: as much as $500 million over eight years.
In early December, he alerted the Board of Public Works that he would seek its approval for the second-largest land preservation project in state history, a deal to purchase development rights for nearly 25,000 acres in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. Price tag: $22 million.
The board is expected to make a decision this week.
And on Friday, Glendening's personnel director proposed a 2 percent wage increase and other pay raises for state workers, who just received a 4 percent raise in January. Price tag: $100 million.
Ehrlich is not bound to honor any deal Glendening cuts with the unions. But reneging on an agreement would be politically awkward, both for him and for legislative leaders.
Glendening has strongly defended the wage proposal, noting that lawmakers voted themselves a 38 percent raise last year. The General Assembly also raised Schaefer's salary from $100,000 to $125,000 a year, Porcari said. The governor's salary is also due to rise, from $120,000 to $150,000 a year. A related measure increased the pension Glendening will receive from $60,000 to at least $75,000 a year.
Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele (R) said he and Ehrlich want to avoid getting into a public spat with Glendening over the deficit and the pay raise negotiations because they're still hoping that "the governor will do the right thing and recognize that we are in a tight fiscal box."
"I'm not going to comment about the emotions involved," Steele said. "We don't want to smack the governor on his way out the door."
Staff writer Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.