ANNAPOLIS — Carroll legislators have shown apathy toward a program in the House and Senate that would allow lawmakers to give back part or all of their $2,000 pay raises this year to the state's general budget fund.
Only one of Carroll's six General Assembly representatives -- Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard -- said he would participate in the payback program as both a symbolic and practical measure to counteract the state's budget deficit.
Three other Carroll legislators said they would consider -- though hesitantly -- participating in the voluntary program. Two more -- Delegates Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, and Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard -- said they would forgo a raise if the money were givento charities, but would not give it to the state because they disagree with some of the governor's spending policies.
Lawmakers can arrange with the Legislative Accounting Office to send a portion of their monthly paychecks to a United Charities Program organization.
The legislators said they have reservations about the payback programbecause it would do little to reduce the estimated $427 million state deficit and could reflect negatively upon lawmakers who don't participate for personal reasons.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, has said he will return his $5,000 raise to the state treasury. Beginning Jan. 1, legislators' salaries rose from $25,000 to $27,000, the first increase in four years. Salaries for the two presiding officers rose from $32,000 to $37,000. The state would save $381,000 if all the legislators returned their raises.
"I think some of it is political grandstanding," said Matthews.
He said it could be a hardship for legislators with little or no outside income to give back the raises, but they might feel compelled to do it for political reasons.
Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, agreed, saying it wouldn't seem right for some legislators to give back money while others pocket it. However, the House Appropriations Committee member saidthe state savings is not just symbolic in light of the budget crunchand added that he would consider participating.
Elliott said if he were to give back his raise, he'd prefer to target it toward an organization "with less overhead and administrative costs than state government."
Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, said he was not inclined to give back money unless an initiative was sponsored bythe entire Senate. Haines noted that he technically hasn't received a raise anyway, since this is his first year in the legislature.
Smelser said he is "willing to join in. In times like this, everybody has to try to help."
However, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee member emphasized that salaries at the top levels of state government, ranging from about $80,000 to $100,000 or more, are "way too high" and should be adjusted.
Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, said he would consider the proposal, but added it "doesn't make a whole lot of sense."