Budget cuts for bureaucrats sent via 'Western Unions'
In the State House, they are referred to as "Western Unions" -- actions taken by the General Assembly to send messages to agencies or bureaucrats who have displeased lawmakers.
The $11.6 billion state budget to be voted on tonight contains several such messages this year.
The Department of Human Resources, for example, had its communications budget cut by $25,000. The reduction came in the form of an amendment by Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Eastern Shore, who said he was unhappy with Secretary of Human Resources Carolyn Colvin.
Colvin announced earlier this month that she was sending letters to welfare recipients notifying them that their grants were being reduced because of budget problems. Lawmakers interpreted the move as a pressure tactic by Colvin's boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, to win a tax increase.
Legislative leaders meeting in a joint House-Senate budget committee last week approved higher taxes to cover the welfare gap. They also approved the $25,000 cut in Colvin's budget.
In those budget negotiations, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City, pushed for the firing of two state workers. One of the workers was hired recently as an investigator for the Child Care Administration despite a statewide hiring freeze. The other is a department head in the Department of Assessments and Taxation who responded to budget cutbacks by laying off an entire unit of map-drawers.
Hoffman brought the identification numbers of the two targets to the budget negotiations and asked that their terminations be written into the budget. Negotiators decided against firing the department head because it was too late to rehire the workers, but they opted to fire the investigator, saying child-service agencies should focus on service and leave law enforcement to police.
The committee considered, but rejected, several "Western Unions" to Schaefer. The House wanted to cut $200,000 from the executive department budget. The Senate suggested a $40,000 cut and a 1 percent reduction in salaries for the 500 top-ranking executives who work for Schaefer.
Steinberg at bat:
Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg made an unusual appearance before a Senate committee to testify in support of a bill that would prohibit various forms of housing discrimination. It was not an administration bill, so Steinberg apparently felt compelled to explain his presence.
In typical Steinberg fashion, he joked that he's very selective when it comes to backing bills at committee hearings.
"I'm trying to up our percentage, our batting average," he told members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
When a committee member asked him his batting average, Steinberg replied, "My batting average is pretty good. I walked a lot this session."