State transportation officials, who are lobbying for higher gasoline taxes by pleading poverty, have still managed to find $64,979 to hire a former Baltimore highways official who ran one of the governor's political action committees.
Frank Babusci, 42, who recently won a disability pension from the city, said yesterday he begins work Monday at Department of Transportation headquarters at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport as a contract employee "with a vast [array] of duties."
Stephen G. Zentz, deputy secretary of transportation, said Mr. Babusci's new job will combine responsibility for some future programs, including a consumer quality-control effort, with a vacant post within the division of operating services. In the division job, he will oversee building and vehicle maintenance for department headquarters along with safety and asbestos programs departmentwide.
The employment contract was signed Wednesday despite the DOT's well-publicized revenue problems, which have led to a 3 percent across-the-board spending cut, a hiring freeze for both regular and con
tract workers and a freeze on new construction.
Mr. Zentz said Secretary of Transportation O. James Lighthizer persuaded state budget officials to grant an exception to the hiring freeze because "we had an immediate need" and a qualified candidate. Mr. Babusci "is an excellent public
works guy," said Mr. Zentz.
Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of the subcommittee that reviews the DOT budget, said legislators were looking at new contract employees. "I'd like to know what expertise Mr. Babusci brings to the department that can't be performed by one of the depart
ment's 9,600 employees," he said.
Last fall, Mr. Babusci, a longtime friend and political ally of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, ran the People's Choice PAC. The political action committee funneled more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from the governor's campaign coffers to other state candidates.
Zentz, who recommended Mr. Babusci for the state job, said he was unaware of Mr. Babusci's PAC responsibilities.
Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary, said his boss played no role in the hiring.
Mr. Zentz also said he had not known that Mr. Babusci, who injured his back while moving a box of files in a city office in October 1989, had claimed that his back was 75 percent disabled.
A hearing examiner decided in January that Mr. Babusci had not suffered a 75 percent disability, which would have qualified him for a pension that equaled two-thirds of his salary. Instead the examiner approved a disability benefit that pays Mr. Babusci PTC one-third of his salary -- or $21,175 annually for life.
Mr. Babusci supported former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns in the 1987 elections. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke demoted Mr. Babusci from his job as chief of operations for the city Department of Transportation in 1989.