Md. lawmakers, unions hunt budget alternatives

December 08, 1990|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun Eileen Canzian and Patricia Meisol of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- A government employees union threatened yesterday to sue Gov. William Donald Schaefer if he goes through with his plan to lay off at least 1,800 state workers without regard to seniority or notification rights guaranteed in state law.

William Bolander, executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said an attorney general's opinion that such requirements do not apply when there is not enough money available to pay salaries would give department heads the freedom to fire union activists or anyone else they choose.

"We're hoping we can stop that," said Mr. Bolander, whose union represents about 10,000 state employees. "We're hoping through talks with the governor and [legislative] leadership they'll reassess their position."

Joel Dan Lehman, president of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, representing about 21,000 state employees, agreed that such a procedure would eliminate the standard "last hired, first fired" rule for layoffs.

However, Mr. Lehman took a less confrontational approach during a 20-minute talk with Governor Schaefer. He suggested that state employees could be given workdays or holidays off without pay to make up a portion of the deficit. The state spends about $6 million a day to pay the work force of about 75,000, he said, and five such days could save enough money to avert most of the proposed layoffs.

But state lawmakers, who began sifting through the governor's latest budget-reduction plan yesterday, offered little hope that either layoffs or sharp reductions in state programs could be averted. Their focus instead turned to making the cuts as painless as possible.

"We're just making sure that all possible alternatives are covered," said Delegate Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery, following the first of what probably will be a series of meetings between House and Senate leaders to discuss various ways the deficit might be reduced.

Mr. Schaefer announced Thursday that the deficit had grown to $423 million -- $242.6 million beyond the amount he and his aides have already trimmed from this year's spending plan. To cover the balance, he proposed laying off at least 1,800 state workers, shifting millions of dollars between various funds, and cutting capital projects, parkland acquisition and other programs.

Major parts of Mr. Schaefer's plan need legislative approval, so lawmakers yesterday dispatched their own budget advisers to draw up alternatives. Ideas ranged from shrinking previously committed outlays for construction projects to possibly enticing some veteran employees to take early retirement.

"The legislature intends to make sure that agency heads get rid of all their frills, deadwood and featherbedding before we start cutting jobs," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.

One project that would be trimmed by $3.5 million in the governor's plan is the golf course proposed to bring tourists to Western Maryland's Rocky Gap State Park. But state officials insist there is still enough money left to build the Jack Nicklaus signature course.

"People must understand that this is not a 'frill' recreation project. It's an economic development project," said Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany. "It's the backbone of Western Maryland's future economy."

Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Anne Arundel, protested the plan to stop parkland acquisition, saying the program is cited by one of the governor's own commissions as a way of slowing the sprawl of development around the Chesapeake Bay.

Most of the lawmakers also seemed to oppose Mr. Schaefer's plan to cut state aid to local governments by 10 percent -- a plan that would penalize the wealthiest jurisdictions the most.

The money, earmarked primarily for libraries, police and community colleges, is usually distributed by complex formulas based in part on population. But the administration proposes to take it away based strictly on a county's wealth as measured by its property tax base.

As a result, Montgomery County would have to absorb a loss of $8.5 million -- more than a quarter of the $33 million being cut statewide. In contrast, Baltimore would lose just $2.8 million.

The legislators seemed at odds over a plan to shift to the general treasury a portion of the corporate income tax that now goes into the Transportation Trust Fund. House members in particular said thatwould make a gas tax this coming year inevitable, a position they are not yet ready to take.

While lawmakers were looking broadly at the budget, others were focusing more closely on areas of special interest.

Secretary of Higher Education Shaila R. Aery, for example, said that she, the governor and University of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg have discussed options to find $10.5 million to put toward the deficit. Among them: raising tuition for out-of-state students and asking faculty to teach an extra course to eliminate some part-time salaries.

A proposed $2.8 million cut in state scholarships is more difficult, she said, because in times of recession and high joblessness, more people enroll in colleges.

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