Impoverished Marylanders, prisoners, state police, college students and state government workers will find themselves with one thing in common -- they all would be hurt by a $450 million budget-slashing proposal that the governor announced today.
At a meeting with business and local government leaders in Crownsville, a somber Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed "painful" cuts to balance the state budget as the nationwide economic recession continues.
Those cuts would eliminate the jobs of 1,766 state government employees on Nov. 1.
"This is one of the saddest and toughest days I've had in public office," Schaefer told the group, which included scores of Maryland State Police officers protesting the firings of some of their colleagues.
"Much of the progress the state has made in the last five years will go back," he said.
Schaefer's plan would:
* Cut out financial and medical assistance for 24,000 poor people with temporary disabilities and reduce the payments to poor families with children by 2.5 percent.
* Abolish the jobs of 83 troopers and 25 civilian employees of the state police and close two barracks.
* Eliminate Med-Evac emergency helicopter service for seriously ill or injured people from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. and close two Med-Evac facilities.
* Make large cuts in state aid to public and private colleges and universities, leading to some layoffs and tuition increases.
* Slash aid to local governments by 25 percent, affecting police, local health departments, community colleges, pre-kindergarten programs and school food programs for poor children.
* Reduce money for drug treatment programs by 35 percent and eliminate treatment services for prisoners.
Schaefer told a grim audience of several hundred that he had no choice but to propose the cuts to eliminate a budget deficit.
Tomorrow, he will present the package for approval by the Board of Public Works, which consists of himself, the comptroller and the treasurer.
His plan is to take effect Nov. 1, marking the fifth round of budget slashing in 13 months. Today's proposal cuts about 4 percent from the current, 11.5 billion budget.
Meanwhile, legislators must cope with the painful alternatives of accepting the budget cuts as they are or raising taxes to offset the most serious reductions.
"The potential cuts are devastating," said House Speaker Pro Tem Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery. "I've been in the legislature for 18 years, and I've never seen anything like this."
Whether the cuts will fuel support for raising taxes remains in doubt.
State Sen. Laurence Levitan, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said increasing the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent would raise a couple hundred million dollars.
But he did not seem hopeful that his colleagues would agree to such a move. "I don't think there's support anywhere," said Levitan, D-Montgomery. "They've called me a general without an army."
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a powerful influence in tax matters, said today that he did not believe the legislature should convene a special session to raise taxes, saying government "has to get its house in order" first.
Lawmakers have been studying the state's spending and tax system for possible changes next year.
Higher taxes alone will not eliminate the large budget problem, ,, Kopp said. "Whether you raise taxes or not, you're going to have to make significant cuts," she declared.
State officials are sending out pink slips informing 1,766 employees that their jobs will be eliminated Nov. 1, saving roughly $36 million. Also, 419 vacant positions will be eliminated. The state employs about 80,000 people on a full-time basis.
Bill Bolander, an official with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, criticized the state for firing workers without regard to seniority.
Hilda Ford, the state's personnel secretary, said people losing their jobs are facing hardships.
One worker with minimal savings fears losing her home, she said today. Another man asked if he could perform any state job, even manual labor, since he is just 11 months away from retiring, she said.
The most startling budget cut affects 24,000 of the state's poorest residents, who will lose their benefits under the General Public Assistance and medical programs.
The governor's plan would wipe out the public assistance program, which provides as much as $205 a month, plus food stamps, to people who cannot work because of temporary disabilities. Those recipients, who do not qualify for federal assistance, also would lose their medical assistance.
"People who have worked in the past, with no other income and no other way to live, will absolutely be penniless," said Lynda Meade, a member of the Maryland Alliance for the Poor, an advocacy group.