Schaefer proposed cuts, closings to trim deficit Budget chief Benton says at least 100 likely to be laid off

December 29, 1990|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The Schaefer administration cut more deeply into the flesh of state government yesterday to cover Maryland's remaining $243 million budget deficit.

It announced plans to close a small treatment center near Thurmont for the developmentally disabled, to end a state meat and poultry inspection program, and to eliminate or scale back a variety of other programs that will result in at least several dozen layoffs and probably more.

In addition, facilities at a dozen state parks will be closed for half a year; a $1 million-a-year compensation program for Chesapeake Bay watermen will be terminated; asbestos and savings and loan litigation units in the attorney general's office will be phased out; and some members of the governor's staff will have to give up their car phones.

Budget and Fiscal Planning Secretary Charles L. Benton Jr. described this second round of budget reductions as "painful" but said it is much improved over an original administration plan that would have resulted in an estimated 1,800 layoffs, effective New Year's Day.

The compromise, described in a briefing for reporters yesterday, represents an amalgamation of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's original deficit-reduction plan and alternatives developed by General Assembly leaders and their budget advisers.

Mr. Benton said he could not say exactly how many layoffs would result from the latest budget action because they are sprinkled throughout the state bureaucracy, but he acknowledged they likely will exceed 100.

Combined with a previous first round of cuts that reduced the deficit by $180 million, this latest $243 million in savings -- if

approved by the Board of Public Works next Wednesday, as expected -- should cover the overall $423 million deficit that developed in the current budget year as the state's economy suddenly soured.

The bulk of the savings will come from transfers from various funds into the state's general treasury, moves that must be approved by the passage of legislation.

The biggest transfers include $72 million from a $126 million "RainyDay Fund" set up for just such emergencies; $40 million from parkland acquisition and farmland preservation programs; and $22 million from the Transportation Trust Fund.

The University of Maryland and other state colleges also must reduce their budgets by $15 million.

Another $15.6 million will be trimmed from the state's local aid programs for community colleges, libraries, police protection and property tax subsidies. But Mr. Benton said the cuts were apportioned so that the poorest subdivisions, such as Baltimore or Somerset County, would be harmed the least.

Mr. Benton said legislative leaders have told Mr. Schaefer "they were flexible and indicated cooperation. We don't anticipate any problems."

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, one of only three legislators who made it through Thursday night's snowstorm to a briefing on the deficit-reduction plan, said she was impressed that the governor and his aides "tried very hard to do the least amount of damage. And they really did."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's, indicated that lawmakers were likely to go along with the current year reductions, but were not necessarily committed to carrying them through to the following fiscal 1992 budget. Mr. Schaefer is currently trying to find a way to close a projected $208 million shortfall in that budget plan before submitting it to the legislature in about two weeks.

Mr. Benton said the most difficult task was to ask state agencies that already had reduced their budgets by $88 million to find ways to trim another $15 million.

Among the latest casualties:

* A Department of Agriculture meat and poultry inspection program, which is to be replaced by a nearly identical federal inspection program, effective April 1. Robert L. Walker, the deputy agriculture secretary, said the department hopes that as many as half of the state's 37 inspectors will be re-employed under the federal program.

* The Victor Cullen Center in Sabillasville, a residential treatment center for severely or profoundly retarded adults. When the center closes sometime before June 30, its 79 patients will be transferred to other state facilities.

Layoffs of the center's 142 employees, said health department spokeswoman Tori Leonard, are "yet to be determined." She said it was possible -- "but no guarantee" -- that some of the jobs could be transferred.

* A 10-member unit within Mr. Benton's budget department that has assisted other state agencies address their computer needs.

Like the meat inspectors and the three shifts of employees at the Cullen Center, Mr. Benton's computer assistance employees were given the bad news yesterday afternoon.

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