ON March 25, 1992, the then governor, Lord Wilson, rejected legislators' requests to be allowed to put forward, and vote on, amendments to the Budget. Two years and seven weeks later, his successor has done exactly the same, last week dismissing councillors' attempts to propose a lower rates rise than that contained in Financial Secretary Sir Hamish Macleod's recent Budget. Governor Chris Patten, the man whose arrival was formerly seen as putting an end to the bad old days when the Government rode roughshod over the wishes of the Legislative Council, has now - at least, in this respect - become a carbon-copy of his Sinologist predecessor Lord Wilson. So it is hardly surprising that legislators feel angry; sufficiently so for members of two major political parties to walk out in protest during last week's vote on the rates issue, and accuse the Government of reducing Legco to a rubber-stamp. It hardly seems to matter anymore that their case on the rates was not a particularly good one, since the rates rise was only due to a routine property revaluation, capped at a maximum level of 20 per cent, and was more than offset by the tax concessions elsewhere in the Budget. Instead what now counts is that the Governor, who used to stress his desire to be accountable to Legco, has shown that he sees himself as more accountable on some issues than others. Worse still, Mr Patten has given the impression of treating the councillors with contempt, by failing to respond to a request from Liberal Party legislator James Tien Pei-chun - one of the ringleaders of the abortive rates revolt - for a special meeting to discuss the issue. Even Lord Wilson acted better than that, agreeing to such a meeting with councillors in 1992 before rejecting their request to be allowed to amend the Budget. Down the hill, many of the bureaucrats of Lower Albert Road are delighted that the Governor seems to have finally broken free from what they see as the shackles of Legco, and reasserted the administration's authority. Secretary for the Treasury Donald Tsang Yam-kuen set the tone with his controversial ''silence of the lambs'' speech, which accused legislators who oppose ''modest increases in rates and charges'' of being irresponsible ''free-lunch'' politicians. But the civil servants now rejoicing that past pledges of accountability to the Legislative Council need not be taken so seriously any more are making a serious mistake. In the short term, the administration's handling of the rates issue could make their life much more difficult. Already the first effects have been felt over the past few days, as infuriated legislators clashed with Mr Tsang at a meeting to discuss housing issues. If that mood of anger persists, then it will be much more difficult for the Government to win the co-operation it needs to get several major measures through Legco in the coming weeks, from the political reform bill to the around $10 billion in funds needed for the new airport. A wiser government would have understood the importance of avoiding a confrontation - if only to retain Legco's co-operation over these more important issues - even at the price of offering some face-saving concessions on rates. An astute politician such as Mr Patten should have recognised that, under Hong Kong's strange political system where legislators are condemned to permanent opposition, it is only natural they will want to score points with the electorate by trying to knock something out of the Budget every year, even if that means settling on an issue - such as rates - where their case is weak. Sir Hamish's sterling efforts to consult legislators in advance of the Budget are creditable, but not enough. Perhaps he should take a tip that some of his colleagues are already offering, and include some ''fat'' in future budgets - fat which would be tailor-made for legislators to target and take out, so notching up another success in the eyes of their constituents, while not harming the Government's overall financial strategy. In the short term, the Governor would be extremely unwise to reject the two private members' bills now before him: Christine Loh Kung-wai's access to information legislation, and Anna Wu Hung-yuk's bill to establish a human rights commission. For, if he does turn either down, the accusations that he is breaking his past pledges of accountability - and reducing Legco to a rubber-stamp - will merely echo louder and louder.