Lawmakers Balk At State Layoffs, But See No Alternative

December 19, 1990|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Carroll legislators say they were relieved the governor backed away from his proposal to lay off at least 1,800 state workers beginning this week, but were not convinced alternatives could make up for Maryland's $243 million budget deficit.

State workers shouldn't be fired now if it can be averted, said Sen.

Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

"But I think something will have to be done in that area before the dust settles," said Smelser, adding that close reviews of state agency budgets will begin in January.

Even with this year's budget outlook growing steadily worse and revenue projections for next year looking bleak, several of Carroll's six delegation members said they would strongly oppose any initiatives for new or increased taxes during the 1991 General Assembly session.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the state legislature have offered separate proposals to balance this year's budget. The administration already reduced spending by $180 million last month, addressing a previous deficit estimate that now has grown by the additional $243 million.

Lawmakers suggested compelling state employees to take off one day each month without pay for six months to save $36.8 million. The governor's proposed layoffs would save about $33.9 million.

Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, said delaying possible layoffs buys time for the administration to "get some overall grasp" of the budget situation and evaluate personnel decisions more carefully.

But short-term budget cuts, such as furloughs, aren't likely to solve the state's long-term financial problems, he said.

"If the recession is to be of short duration, then immediate type of cuts affecting fiscal year 1991 might be enough," said LaMotte, a vice president with First Financial Group in Towson, Baltimore County.

"If, however, as most economists believe, the recession is to become deeper and deeper over the course of 1991, that has a very large effect on fiscal 1992. In that case, there may need to be hard decisions made that may involve the jobs of people."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, said he believed the state government hiring freeze coupled with restrictions on such expenses as vehicle and equipment purchases and travel could result in a balanced budget, without layoffs, by June 30, 1991, the end of the fiscal year.

But if those measures fall short, Haines said he favors salary cuts for state employees rather than layoffs. He said he believes the governor's layoff proposal was a tactic to call attention to the seriousness of the situation.

Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, said he opposed the governor's proposed $32.9 million cut in aid to counties, saying such reductions would exacerbate budget problems throughout the state. The latest proposal would reduce aid to Carroll for police protection, libraries and Carroll Community College by more than $400,000.

However, LaMotte said few items in the state budget should be sacrosanct.

"Everybody is going to have to take a hit," he said. "Only the sick and the needy should be left alone. Everything else should be on the table."

All the Carroll legislators objected to the governor's proposal to cut spending on the Kidney Disease Program, which provides state assistance for dialysis patients who depend on the treatment to live.

Haines and Delegates Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, and Donald B.

Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, agreed that raising taxes was not an acceptable solution to the budget deficit.

"Citizens set a mandate that they don't want increased taxes," said Haines. "Legislators have to respond to that."

Elliott said state government should conduct internal audits of every department to find out where cuts could be made with minimal disruption to people's lives. But answers probably won't be available soon enough to solve this year's budget crunch, he admitted.

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