If it's not a recession, it looks like it as Schaefer orders state 0) to tighten its belt
More state employees -- and clients of state agencies -- could expect bad news as Gov. William Donald Schaefer ordered cuts in the budget to deal with a deficit that is now estimated at $180 million, and that many in government believe could double if the economy continues to deteriorate.
Mr. Schaefer and the Board of Public Works agreed to cut spending in the current fiscal year in virtually every state agency by 1 percent to 6 percent of department budgets. In addition, the governor has ordered a hiring freeze and directed that most vehicle and equipment purchases be stopped and out-of-state travel curtailed. Among the casualties were programs -- or parts of programs -- that provide prescription drugs to the poor and home health care for the disabled and that reimburse hospitals for caring for Medicaid patients. "It is our hope -- but not our expectation -- that this crisis will be short-lived," said Charles L. Benton, the secretary of budget and fiscal planning, as he delivered the bad news to the three-member board. Afterward, Mr. Schaefer predicted at least one more round of cuts, the next one much harder to endure for agencies and those who depend on their services.
Ax to swing again at Corrections, too
Bishop L. Robinson, secretary for public safety and bTC correctional services, told a House of Delegates subcommittee that his department would discipline at least two more employees for their role in the mistaken release of John F. Thanos, a rapist and robber who was charged with three murders after he was let out of prison. Mr. Robinson would not name the action or the employees, citing laws governing confidentiality in personnel matters. But his statement, made after a second investigation of the case, contradicted what he told state lawmakers two months ago, when he said disciplinary action would be limited to attempts to fire the former prison records supervisor who released Thanos 18 months early from Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County in April after misinterpreting a new policy on "good time" release. Mr. Robinson also said the Division of Correction finally was moving ahead with computerizing the state's method of calculating inmate sentence lengths -- a program first proposed more than five years ago but put aside by prison officials
Schmoke backs tax cap to keep homeowners
Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke put it briefly: "We want to keep people in the city." So he agreed to an election-year proposal to cap property tax assessment increases to 4 percent a year. The plan could cost the city as much as $2.5 million per year in lost revenue, according to the Department of Finance. About 71,000 Baltimore homeowners would realize property tax savings. The mayor's announcement was hailed immediately by members of the City Council, who then made it clear that they would propose additional tax relief measures in the form of a reduction of between 7 cents and 10 cents in Baltimore's property tax rate of $5.95 per $100 of assessed valuation -- a rate more than twice that of any other Maryland subdivision. Likewise, David B. Rudow, president of the Baltimore City Homeowners' Coalition for Fair Property Taxes, praised the mayor's move, but said his taxpayers group would keep pushing for a reduction in the property tax rate.
Subway hits an emergency stop
A section of loose sand disturbed by subway tunnelers caused a section of Orleans Street in East Baltimore to collapse, severing many utility lines, interrupting some telephone service and shutting down the heavily traveled roadway. Work crews boring a tunnel south from Johns Hopkins Hospital ran into the loose sand, which caused settling that undermined and cracked two water mains, said George B. Morschauser, a spokesman for DKP, the joint venture managing the subway project. Water from the cracked mains eroded the soil under the street, he said, eventually causing the pavement to collapse from its own weight. No one was hurt in the accident, and there was no property damage other than the hole in the street, about 12 feet deep and 25 feet across, and the flooding in the tunnel, said Helen L. Dale, a spokesman for the Mass Transit Administration. But Mr. Morschauser said work would not resume until an investigation of the incident is completed. "We're not going to continue tunneling until the contractor can convince us that there are safeguards in place to prevent this from happening again," he said.
State plans to protect many more species