Budget alternatives seem shortsighted, Schaefer complains

December 13, 1990|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer rejected yesterday most of the new budget-cutting proposals developed this week by General Assembly leaders and warned that unless the situation changes, the first pink slips notifying state employees of Jan. 1 layoffs could be handed out as early as Monday.

Once fired, the employees may never get back their jobs with the state, the governor made clear yesterday: "This is not a furlough. This is not a temporary layoff. This is not a suspension."

Mr. Schaefer said the long list of alternatives presented to legislative leaders Tuesday night would do little to resolve long-range financial problems because most of the measures call for one-time-only reductions in the current budget year.

Not only must the governor find ways to close a remaining budget gap of $242 million in the current fiscal year, which is already half over, but he also faces a projected $204 million deficit in fiscal year 1992. He must resolve the first problem and then complete his fiscal 1992 budget in time to submit it to the legislature in about four weeks.

The governor specifically singled out legislative proposals to trim back a series of economic development loan, grant and incentive programs as detrimental to the state. He said trimming them would "devastate our ability to move forward in the months to come."

Another idea -- to furlough all 76,000 state employees one day a month for six months -- would create an administrative headache and, again, would not result in any long-term savings to the state, he said.

He called it "a good theory" but said it becomes impractical when talking about police, prison guards or hospital workers.

And a plan to scrap a proposed golf course and convention center in Rocky Gap State Park designed to attract tourists to Western Maryland would be ill-advised, he said, because long-sought financing for the project was close to being secured.

Also, he asserted that a 1 percent across-the-board salary reduction was unacceptable because it would be unfair and most state employees would resist it.

The governor said a few of the proposals suggested Tuesday night by legislative budget chief William S. Ratchford II could be acceptable, but most would provide only modest savings.

Legislative leaders only reviewed the alternatives Tuesday. They have scheduled a follow-up meeting for tomorrow to begin making decisions.

Mr. Schaefer said he cannot wait long.

"The sands of time are running out. I'll be forced to make some decisions," said the governor. He has recommended up to 1,800 layoffs, but has threatened as many as 12,800 if the legislature does not give him approval to transfer millions of dollars from several special government funds to the general treasury.

Legislative leaders had emerged from their Tuesday night briefing in apparent agreement that most, if not all, of the layoffs could be averted. Mr. Schaefer said he was ready to discuss the various proposals with the lawmakers, but seemed to question their motives.

"It all depends on what you're doing," he said. "If you're posturing so you can say, 'We've saved people from being laid off,' that's OK. But they ought to give me a signal that's what they're doing."

Asked specifically if he was accusing the legislators of posturing, the governor replied: "There will be no good guys in this one."

Dennis H. Parkinson, the governor's deputy budget director, said each state agency was told Monday how much money they must contribute to the overall deficit-reduction plan. The individual agency is left to determine whether that can be done through program reductions or layoffs.

For those agencies that choose layoffs, the first to go are likely to be among the 30,000 or so contractual employees the state hires in addition to its regular work force, Mr. Parkinson said. Together, those employees provide work equivalent to about 10,000 full-time state employees.

The agency recommendations then must be approved by the governor's budget advisers and finally by the governor himself. Mr. Schaefer said yesterday that he is fully prepared to shoulder that responsibility.

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