Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes today placed the state's 102 privately insured savings and loan associations under government control and called the legislature into emergency session Friday to consider a new insurance program to protect depositors.
Hughes signed an executive order setting a ceiling of $1,000 a month per account on withdrawals from the affected institutions.
Hughes said the extraordinary steps are necessary to stem the continued draining of deposits from the S&Ls that he said has drained hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few months. The drain accelerated after the announcement last Thursday of serious management problems at Old Court Savings & Loan of Baltimore.
"The continued run on deposits has not tapered off," Hughes told reporters at the statehouse. Recognizing that "a special session and legislation was inevitable," the governor said it was time to act "before the roof caves in."
The governor also disclosed for the first time the extent of the withdrawals that have hit many of the state's S&Ls in the wake of allegations of criminal misconduct by Old Court's owners. In the past "couple" of months, Hughes said, privately insured savings and loans had suffered $630 million in withdrawals, including $116 million on Monday, and had been forced to borrow $370 million from the Federal Reserve in the same period.
Under the executive order signed by Hughes this afternoon, withdrawals in all of the savings and loan associations that are not already federally insured would be limited to $1,000 per 30 days per account, including checking accounts -- the same limits imposed on depositors in two associations that were put into conservatorship in the past two days. The limit on withdrawals does not apply to any deposits made after the governor issued his order today.
The legislation to be considered by the General Assembly would in effect force all but the smallest of the state-chartered savings and loan associations to join the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. (FSLIC). Those with less than $25 million in deposits would be required to join a new, smaller-scale state agency that would take over the functions of the Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corp. (MSSIC), the private insurance industry-backed firm that now insures the deposits in most state-chartered institutions. The new state insurance fund would be backed by general obligation bonds issued by the state. MSSIC would be dissolved.
The General Assembly also will be asked to consider giving the state authority to liquidate any associations that do not qualify for FSLIC or the state-backed insurance.
"For the large ones that don't qualify, then they will either have to make arrangements to improve their capital position . . . or go out of business," Hughes said. Depositors would be reimbursed up to $100,000 and the association's assets sold.
Legislation to be considered in the special session also would allow institutions that presently cannot qualify for FSLIC coverage to meet the requirements by either an additional investment of capital by their owners, a state-approved takeover by other S&Ls or banks or investment by the state. In the case of investment by the state, Maryland would issue notes to an association and would acquire an equity interest in it. The state's interest could be bought back by the association's owners within 30 days.
Hughes also said the legislation will "give very broad sweeping powers to the governor to move quickly, to impose restrictions, to do all kinds of things to preserve the integrity of the savings and loan industry in Maryland." Hughes declined to enumerate what those powers would be, but said they would permit him to take "whatever action was deemed necessary" to protect depositors.
According to House Speaker Benjamin Cardin (D-Balt.), it would include giving the governor authority over investments by state-chartered S&Ls. The extraordinary powers would last only until July 1, 1986.
Hughes' announcement this afternoon capped several days of furious effort by his administration to contain a crisis that has spread rapidly to other Baltimore-area thrift institutions following revelations about Old Court on Thursday and Friday.
Late Monday night, after the state had forced Old Court into conservatorship under MSSIC and another thrift, Merritt Commercial Savings & Loan, had taken the same route voluntarily, Hughes had urged holders of the state's one million S&L accounts to remain calm in the face of a threat to an industry he described as fundamentally sound.
But today, the runs on deposits continued in the Baltimore area, with customers lining up to make withdrawals at at least two other associations -- Fairfax and Custom Savings Associations.
Hughes, who cut short a Mideast visit to cope with the crisis, spent the past two days in continuous meetings with state officials, representatives of the Federal Reserve, and members of the state attorney general's staff. The governor said it was not until he returned to his official residence Monday night that he personally realized the extent of the crisis.
"After thinking about it last night, I decided a special session was inevitable . . . to stem the tide," the governor said.
Hughes said today he realized that the $1,000 limitation on withdrawals would cause some individual hardship. "It's unfortunate," he said. "I'm sorry we have to do it. But we really don't have any alternative. We have been trying to combat the problem for several weeks . . . and the runs have continued. If we don't do this, the depositors will face a worse fate than not being able to get a check cashed for more than a thousand dollars."
In issuing his executive order limiting withdrawals -- which will not affect depositors with accounts in federally insured S&Ls -- Hughes proclaimed that a "state of public crisis and emergency" exists in the state.
Hughes said it is "impossible to say" how long the restrictions on withdrawals will last. "That depends on a lot of things, on how many associations become qualified for federal insurance, how many come under the new insurance program for the state . . . and it depends on the restored confidence of depositors and when the run itself tapers off," he said. The limit on withdrawals will cease as soon as a savings institution joins the FSLIC.
The legislation authorizing the state to invest in those associations that do not quickly qualify for FSLIC insurance also would authorize a $100 million general obligation bond to fund the state investment. Hughes said a smaller bond authorization would be required to set up the new state insurance agency.
The presiding officers of the state Senate and House of Delegates said this evening that they fully support the governor's efforts and predicted the General Assembly will quickly enact Hughes' proposals.