The last time Maryland was in dire financial straits was in the early 1990s when William Donald Schaefer was governor.
Now comptroller, Schaefer took it upon himself this week to bring his voice of experience to the battle over slot machine legislation and closing the state’s budget gap.
“I don’t like layoffs,” Schaefer said. “There ought to be a way out of this.”
Stopping slots will cost Marylanders jobs, he told House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, Thursday, begging the leader responsible for quashing slots 16-5 in a committee vote to reconsider.
Back in 1990, with the state facing a $500 million deficit, Schaefer’s advice was heeded.
But Thursday, Busch said the House and Senate have found ways to balance the current $2 billion deficit without slots.
“I respect (Schaefer),” Busch said, “I took some hard votes for him when he was governor . . . but passing the budget without slots won’t cost any jobs.”
Anyway, the bill is dead, Busch said, “I don’t know how you could resolve this particular bill this year.”
Even though there are ways to bring slots back to life, Budget Secretary James C. “Chip” DiPaula Jr. declared the issue “killed.”
“I don’t see how the same committee that voted it down would come back and approve something else,” he said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, led his troops to draft and pass slot machine legislation in March, but said Thursday he won’t apply the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation necessary to bring them back this session.
“It’s on life support,” Miller said. “I’m not going to revive it.”
The Ehrlich camp applauded Schaefer’s message, and said they had no notice that he was going to lobby the speaker on behalf of slots.
“This is a guy, a mayor, a comptroller, a governor. He understands how important it is to bring in new revenue for education. Any advice he may have is greatly appreciated,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell.
“He’s right. Jobs will be lost,” said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver, “Things that weren’t an option before the House vote, like warm-body layoffs, are options now.”
Core services are also at stake, Schaefer said he told the speaker.
“I feel for the legislators when they go home to letters and calls, `My husband missed his dialysis,’ and `My son won’t be able to have child care,” he said following the meeting.
However, Schaefer pinned the blame on his perennial donkey, former Gov. Parris Glendening, someone, fiscal leaders including Ehrlich, have not attacked during the session.
“The former governor cut every penny out of the government. There’s nothing left now.”