Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, responding to tremendous pressure from savings and loan customers, has asssured legislative leaders that he will take steps to reduce hardships arising from the $1,000 limit on withdrawals he imposed earlier this week on the 102 state-chartered thrift institutions.
Among the possible exemptions to the $1,000 ceiling would be payroll accounts, large mortgage payments and escrow accounts for house sales. But a spokesman for the governor said Hughes does not plan to implement any exemptions until after legislation designed to ease the savings and loan crisis, expected to be approved Friday, has taken effect, which also could be Friday.
State Senate President Melvin Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) said the governor agreed to consider the concessions at a morning conference of legislators, called to look at a package of seven bills designed to ease the state's savings and loan crisis.
Meanwhile, Chevy Chase Savings and Loan, the Washington area's second largest such association, won conditional approval for federal insurance protection today. Such federal approval means that the governor's $1,000 withdrawal limit could be lifted for Chevy Chase's customers as early as Friday, if the federal approval goes through.
The Chevy Chase approval cheered legislators who said removing the state's largest thrift from state protection means that funds available to protect other depositors will stretch further. Chevy Chase has assets of about $2.3 billion, more than a quarter of the total assets of all affected associations.
The major thrust of the Hughes package expands the governor's emergency powers, authorizes $200 million in bonds and establishes the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund as a successor to the Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corporation. The Hughes administration has quietly drafted an eighth bill that would permit large out-of-state banks to acquire Maryland savings and loan associations and convert them to commercial banks. If passed, the legislation would short-circuit a measure enacted by the 1985 General Assembly delaying national banking in Maryland until 1988.
A senior official of Chase Manhattan Corp, testifying today before four committees considering the governor's legislation, urged the legislature to adopt such a measure. In Ohio, which suffered a similar savings and loan crisis in March, Chase is in the process of converting a half dozen savings and loans to commercial banks.
Benjamin Bialek, Hughes' chief legislative aide, said the measure "is certainly something that is being considered," but insisted the governor has no immediate intention of presenting it to the General Assembly.
Senate President Steinberg said the bill allowing out-of-state banks to buy and convert savings and loans could serve to reduce the state's financial exposure if it has to liquidate some of the state's troubled savings and loan associations.
"It is important not to reject immediately the idea," Steinberg said of the draft bill.
"You can't do it without acquisition of the troubled savings and loans ," said one legislative leader. "A federal reserve official told us Ohio wouldn't have worked without acquisition."
Legislative leaders and Hughes were close to an agreement late tonight to recess Friday and return next week to take up the conversion bill.
There was widespread agreement among legislators today that they should act swiftly to stem an erosion of public confidence in savings and loans that began late last week following news reports of management problems and possible criminal misconduct at Old Court Savings and Loan, a Baltimore association.
Yet legislators today expressed a number of concerns about specific provisions in the complex package of proposed legislation whose future impact is not fully understood.
One major stumbling block appears to be the proposal to authorize $200 million in general obligation bonds, designed to assist institutions that want to qualify for federal insurance and fund a new state insurance agency for smaller associations.
Legislators were also worried that they are grappling with an enormously difficult issue in just two days. "We're moving too fast," said state Sen. Stewart Bainum, Jr. (D-Montgomery). "We should work through the weekend. The governor's still jet-lagged from a trip to the Mideast and he's out making big decisions. I want to see the process slow down."
Nonetheless, said Senate President Steinberg, "It's urgent that we act." He acknowledged there were serious logistical problems with the leadership's agenda, but said if the public continues to withdraw money from thrifts the state would "almost have civil disorder."
The two house committees charged with considering the bills gave them straw-vote approval shortly before midnight today. But a number of members of the Appropriations and Economic Matters committees indicated they want to add new criminal penalties to any speculators convicted of contributing to the crisis of confidence in the savings and loans. Others said the assembly should return next week and weigh takeover offers of ailing thrifts by out-of-state financial institutions.
Key elements of the bailout also won preliminary approval on the Senate side tonight. Members of the Budget and Taxation Committee took the extra step of voting informally to offset the expected outlay of state bond money by canceling $56.7 million in planned construction projects and deferring another $19.3 million in projects.
Five weeks after the 1985 legislative session folded its tents, Annapolis -- usually left at this time of year to Naval Academy graduates and their families -- went through something of a time warp today. Legislators, lobbyists, staff, and hangers-on descended on the statehouse for the brief reunion. They were joined by an oversize press corps swelled by out-of-town correspondents drawn to a national story.
And in another similarity to the recently completed session, the issue was again banking.
In fact, as the two House and two Senate committees held a hearing on Hughes' legislative package late this afternoon, there was a crescendo of complaints that some of the nation's largest banks were looking for an opening to establish full banking services in Maryland.
Richard J. Boyle, an executive vice president of Chase Manhattan, testified that Chase -- an $86 billion company that is the nation's third largest bank -- has "very limited interest" in continuing as savings and loans any associations it would acquire. The clear implication was that Chase would do what it has already done in Ohio.
"This goes far beyond the staged two-year phase-in of national banking," said Bruce C. Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist who represents First National Bank of Maryland.
State officials and representatives of the Maryland Savings Share Insurance Corporation (MSSIC), the private insurer that is being scheduled to be dissolved, have been shopping for potential buyers for seven or eight of the large Maryland savings and loans that have potentially large losses.
Thomas Maddux, secretary of the department of economic and community development, said today that if out-of-state banks "have a bona fide role to play, I'm all in favor of it." Maddux has assembled a working group within his department to market state savings and loans, and said it would have a package to present to interested banks by the weekend.
Maddux said the state has received inquiries from about 25 in-state and out-of-state banks interested in purchasing Maryland savings and loans. The queries ranged from "vultures to legitimate people," said Maddux.
How the interstate banking issue will affect the outcome of Hughes' proposals to solve the savings and loan crisis is unclear, but it could muddy the waters as the legislature grapples with other concerns about the package.
The legislature seemed intent on securing a commitment from Hughes to allow hardship exemptions to the $1,000 limit on withdrawals. Lawmakers have been barraged with a torrent of complaints from small businessmen who depend on savings and loan accounts to meet their payrolls and persons dependent on their accounts to meet mortgage payments.
Speaker of the House Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore), briefing two House committees today, said, "We have made it clear to the governor we are not willing to sign off on legislation until we have an answer" regarding hardship exemptions.
In Baltimore, a circuit court judge refused to exempt three Maryland savings and loans from the limitation on withdrawals. The judge asked the state to develop exemption criteria by Wednesday, a decision that could be made moot before then.
Another immediate concern of some legislators is what the state's financial exposure could be once it authorizes $200 million in general obligation bonds to assist associations.
Members of the Senate said they would seek to amend the legislation so that if the state actually issues any of the bonds, it would have to postpone an equivalent amount of previously authorized capital projects, so that the state's capital spending limit of about $220 million a year would not be exceeded.
"I'm willing to defer all of next year's capital budget if necessary," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore), chairman of the city's Senate delegation.
Senate Majority Leader John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel), who asked for a list of all capital projects authorized but not begun, said, "I feel there are a lot of projects that are avoidable or deferrable."
But House Speaker Cardin and other legislative leaders said they expect the state actually will have to use only a small part of the $200 million bonding authority. Speaking to fears that the excessive use of bonding authority could jeopardize the state's AAA bond rating, Cardin said the bond rating would be in far greater peril if the state does nothing to quell the savings and loan crisis.
Some senators also promised to press for provisions to protect depositors' principal but not pay off the high interest that attracted depositors to the thrifts. Others also said they will insist that the investments of insiders and speculators not be protected.
"I want to make sure we can separate the insiders from the average depositors," when protecting accounts, said Sen. Charles Smelser (D-Frederick).
As the savings and loan crisis built late last week, Gov. Harry Hughes was basking under the Mediterranean sun during a working vacation in Israel and Egypt. By late Wednesday afternoon, however, he was back home for a press conference, under the lights of five chandeliers and 11 brilliant television lights screwed into the ceiling of the Governor's Reception Room.
Jacqueline Spell, chief clerk for the House of Delegates, was vacationing in St. Augustine, Fla., when she heard the news of the crisis on television. She called the office and on Wednesday was flying stand-by back into the thick of trouble.
The special legislative session was bad timing, too, for Stephen Himmelrich of Image Dynamics, a public relations and advertising firm in Baltimore. Last Thursday night, he received an award from the Maryland Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. The award was for a community relations program he designed for Jeffrey A. Levitt, a co-owner of Old Court Savings and Loan. The same day, news had hit the streets that Old Court Savings and Loan was in trouble and Levitt was under investigation by the Maryland attorney general.