Workweek for Md. kept at 35 hours Schaefer sets aside expanded schedule

February 07, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Responding to a deluge of complaints from inconvenienced government employees, Gov. William Donald Schaefer temporarily restored the 35 1/2 -hour workweek to 40,000 state workers yesterday.

"I think we need some time for people to adjust to the fact that we will go to a 40-hour week," Governor Schaefer told reporters at a hastily arranged meeting to make the announcement. "We will try to do this."

The governor's unexpected decision, apparently reached without the knowledge of even his top staff, came on a day when legislators and the governor's own budget secretary were expressing renewed concern about still-declining state revenues -- and beginning to talk seriously about the need to raise taxes.

Worried by January tax collections that he described as "worse, much worse than we expected," Charles L. Benton Jr., secretary of budget and fiscal planning, told the House Appropriations Committee that the legislature will be forced to choose between cutting a bare-bones budget even further and raising taxes.

The governor's latest decision on the state workweek came only a month after he signed the executive order requiring that all state employees work a uniform, 40-hour week beginning yesterday. Currently, about two-thirds of the state's work force labors under a 35 1/2 -hour schedule.

Employee unions had complained that the 40-hour week was particularly burdensome to state employees who already face the prospect of no cost-of-living or incremental pay increases under the administration's proposed fiscal 1992 budget.

Union officials said they were pleased by Mr. Schaefer's decision to delay the expanded workweek until at least July 1 and to "talk to people who are affected" in the interim.

"What we like is that the governor appeared to respond to the outcry of thousands of state employees," said Sue Esty, a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92. "As he studies it, he'll probably see the impact this has."

Several bills already have been submitted to the General Assembly that would rescind the governor's original order.

Delegate James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George's, said he and two fellow delegates would no longer offer such a bill, although he had rounded up more than 60 co-sponsors in the House.

"The governor acted in good faith and we're responding in good faith," Delegate Rosapepe said.

The last-minute reprieve will be particularly helpful to state workers who hold second jobs or who must juggle day-care needs, but the "battle isn't over yet," said Lance R. Cornine, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association.

The administration had predicted that the expansion of the workweek would cause increased productivity equivalent to 5,000 jobs, or $183 million, at a time when it is struggling to balance the budget in the face of constantly diminishing revenue estimates.

In his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Secretary Benton suggested that the legislature reconsider a proposal pushed by Mr. Schaefer last year that would apply sales tax to certain snack foods and would close various other tax loopholes. He also suggested that a higher tax on cigarettes could bring in an estimated $30 million.

At least three different cigarette tax proposals are before the General Assembly, including one that would add 20 cents to the state's 13-cents-a-pack tax.

Appropriations Chairman Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's, said decisions on whether to raise taxes on cigarettes or anything else will not be made for another two or three weeks. He said such decisions would be a function of how much "pain" citizens are willing to bear through cuts in services.

His Senate counterpart, Budget and Taxation Chairman Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, said that it was clear the state's revenues were still "free falling," and that the situation was making it more likely that the legislature may yet be forced to lay off some state workers to balance the budget.

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