Not 24 hours after the opening of its 1986 session, the Maryland legislature was bombarded by developments in the savings and loan crisis that threatens to dominate deliberations in Annapolis for the duration. With the delivery yesterday of a long-awaited, detailed report to the General Assembly on the S&L collapses, there is now an official history of what went wrong -- with plenty of blame to go around. What is still in critically short supply is the money sought by depositors with virtually no access to their $1.2 billion in savings. That is now the urgent mission of Gov. Harry Hughes, who took to television last night to assure Marylanders of his commitment and the legislators'. It is the state's legal liability to see that the depositors are paid.
While there is much meat in the report from Special State Counsel Wilbur Preston, the causes of S&L failures are already painfully familiar to many who have been following developments since last May. The report says the crisis was caused primarily by a total failure of state regulation and by S&L owners who exploited the system to use depositors' money for their own purposes. Mr. Preston described it as a "hopelessly flawed system, which permitted the industry to make and enforce its own rules." Both the state savings and loan division and the private insurer, the Maryland Savings- Share Insurance Corp., tolerated "insider deals, excessive fees, diversions of corporate opportunities and even criminal acts," the report states.
The report was not all that critical of state officials, such as Gov. Hughes and Attorney General Stephen Sachs. It cited deficiencies in staff and the failure of certain subordinates to notify the governor and attorney general of problems in the industry. Mr. Preston notes that he has given information to Gov. Hughes calling for criminal action against some people and that he may recommend still other criminal investigations as well as civil suits to recover money.
Recovery of money is the issue now -- and Gov. Hughes has pledged to lead that effort. "When you sit in this chair, the buck really does stop here," he said, outlining negotiations so far and noting that he will present more details today. That is the cue that the legislature has been waiting for -- and now decisive action should begin.