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Schaefer comeback?

EDITORIAL: A

July 15, 1998

EDITORIAL: A Schaefer comeback?

Following the death of long-time incumbent Louis L. Goldstein, the race for the Maryland Comptroller's post has drawn a host of would-be successors to the most popular office-holder in Maryland history, including former Gov. William D. Schaefer.

Like Goldstein, Schaefer is a colorful character, but we hope Maryland residents realize they're not electing a ribbon-cutting, baby-kissing master of ceremonies, but a chief financial officer for the state. Based on past performance, we have to wonder if Schaefer is up to the job.

Remember, for example, that in December 1990, the Schaefer administration estimated that there would be a $400 million state budget deficit. Just a month before, the figure had been $300 million. Not too long before that, the figure was $200 million.

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At the time, Schaefer blamed unanticipated growth in Medicaid and welfare costs, but whose fault was it that he hadn't put together an administration that could predict such problems? And unfortunately, the Schaefer administration proved no more adept at solutions than it was at predicting problems.

In a special session held in June 1991 to find ways to close the budget gap, Schaefer's unwillingness to compromise on a package of cuts and fee increases left lawmakers like Minority Leader Ellen Sauerbrey feeling like she'd had "a gun to her head." Del. Tyrus Athey, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said that the governor had been playing "chicken" with lawmakers, putting citizens who needed state services at risk to get his own way.

Schaefer might have been able to close the revenue gap if lawmakers had enacted the Linowes Commission recommendations, but his all-or-nothing stance doomed that to a place on the shelf.

Our archives from the Schaefer years are filled with stories of feuds, not only with lawmakers, but with ordinary citizens, some of whom were tracked down at state expense so the governor could tell them off. Now he's said to be restless and bored in retirement, eager for the challenges of public life again. We're sorry retirement hasn't been more pleasant, but citizens need to know more than that about the motives of Schaefer and all the candidates who want to hold Maryland's purse strings.

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