A hiring freeze on thousands of vacant state jobs has thawed a tad with Board of Public Works' approval of a handful of new positions for a farmland preservation program.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer imposed the freeze in late August when he announced that the state was facing a $150 million shortfall in revenues. Since then, the projected shortfall has risen to $180 million by Schaefer administration estimates and as much as $322 under estimates released this week by legislative budget experts.
Until yesterday's action in Annapolis by the board, the hiring freeze has affected all state jobs except for prison guards and a few positions deemed essential to the delivery of health services around the state.
Schaefer aides had been interviewing applicants for a position as the governor's speech writer, which was vacated when a staff member in his press office left for another job. But Schaefer press secretary Paul E. Schurick, when questioned about plans to fill the vacancy, said the speech writer's position would be included in the freeze.
By not filling nearly 5,000 budgeted but vacant state jobs, Schaefer administration officials say they will save the state about $100 million and help soften the blow of the projected deficit.
The board, which consists of Schaefer, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and state Treasurer Lucille Maurer, approved filling four administrative positions in the Department of General Services to review appraisal evaluations for the state's Agriculture Land Preservation Program.
Under the program, the state purchases property easements to keep farmland from being developed.