Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein is suggesting that he and other top state office-holders sacrifice part of their forthcoming pay raises because of Maryland's budget crisis and to demonstrate sensitivity to the 75,000 rank-and-file state workers whose cost-of-living raises seem to be in jeopardy.
Goldstein, citing an alarming slump in state sales tax revenue, said at a Board of Public Works meeting last week that ranking office-holders ought to get smaller pay raises.
"I'm going to propose that state officials take a discount," the comptroller said. "I'm willing to do it."
As things now stand, the comptroller is scheduled to see his annual salary jump from $72,500 to $100,000 in January after he is sworn in for a ninth four-year term.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer's pay is scheduled to climb from $85,000 to $120,000 a year.
Others scheduled to receive salary increases include the governor's Cabinet secretaries, state judges and members of the General Assembly. The raises, ranging from 4 percent to 56 percent, were approved by the General Assembly early this year.
But Maryland now finds itself with a sickly economy and a projected budget shortfall that some analysts say could exceed $300 million.
That has meant bad news for the state's other 75,000 public servants.
The governor said last week that the cost-of-living pay raise that those state workers had been hoping for next year has been put into jeopardy by the growing budgetary shortfall and by weak signs of economic recovery ahead.
tTC The timing of the fatter paychecks for top officials is awkward at best.
Goldstein was asked if he were serious about making his proposal formal. He said he is working on the details, but that he cannot now disclose specifics.
"I'm working on a plan and I don't want to say one thing and turn around and do another," said the longtime comptroller.
Goldstein said the alarming drop in sales-tax receipts indicates the Maryland economy is worsening beyond earlier projections. After several consecutive years in which Maryland enjoyed a robust economy, lawmakers are facing a current budget shortfall that could reach $300 million, according to legislative analysts. The budget woes are expected to continue into the next year.
So far, reaction to Goldstein's unofficial proposal has been mixed.
Cautious support came from William H. Bolander, director of the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents many state workers.
Bolander said he is not convinced that the state's money woes are bad enough to jeopardize pay raises for state workers next year.
"Our position is that the so-called $300 million [shortfall] is blown out of proportion," he said, adding that state revenues should be strong enough to give state employees some raise. Most state workers have received cost-of-living increases of four percent for the past three years.
The last time state workers went without a general pay raise was in 1984.
If the state cannot afford to give them a raise next year, Bolander said, he will support Goldstein's call for smaller pay raises at high levels of government.
"I'm very doubtful that they'll do it, even if it's suggested," he added. "I don't think they want to cut into their own pocketbooks. It's one thing to have state employees suffer. It's an entirely different sentiment when it comes to top officials."
At least one other top official is receptive to Goldstein's idea.
"There's no doubt in my mind that it is a valid suggestion," said Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, whose pay raise equals that of the comptroller's.
Steinberg pointed out that, even if the entire Schaefer administration took smaller pay raises, the benefit to the total state budget would be hardly noticeable.
But, he added, "It would indicate a sensitivity to current circumstances."
State House observers agreed that if the top officials took smaller raises it would have little pragmatic effect. One said that most of the raises are not overly generous considering they will not be increased or even reviewed for another four years.
The comptroller's notion elicited little response from the governor's office.
"At this point, we have no reaction," said Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary.
The Governor's Salary Commission, which held public hearings during the last session on pay increases for the state's highest office, originally proposed that the governor be paid $135,000 a year -- a wage that would have made Schaefer the highest paid governor in the country.
Schaefer once suggested that the $135,000 salary was too high because lawmakers and the public would reject it. He was right, because the legislature authorized a new salary that is $15,000 less than the original proposal.
A clearer picture of just how badly a troubled economy is bruising the state budget is expected to emerge later this week when the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates releases its latest data.