The word from the streets and shopping malls is: Maryland's state troopers and medevac helicopters are the political equivalent of motherhood and apple pie.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to lay off troopers and ground some medevac flights hit a nerve with a wide range of taxpayers interviewed yesterday. Many said they'd be willing to pay higher taxes to avoid such cutbacks.
"To me, when you talk about life-and-death services like the medevac helicopters, that's something that should be kept sacrosanct," said Robert Pace, an environmental consultant interviewed in Towson.
WBAL radio talk-show host Allan Prell fielded a morning's worth of calls from Marylanders angered and dismayed by the governor's proposed cuts.
"The vast majority of people think it's a political ploy on the governor's part to jack taxes up," Mr. Prell said. "They just feel it's a manipulation, that the governor was using the highway patrol as a high-profile way of drawing attention to this."
Few of Mr. Schaefer's other proposed cuts -- including elimination of the General Public Assistance welfare program, which aids 24,000 of what the governor called "the poorest of the poor -- registered with most taxpayers.
"There was next to no concern," Mr. Prell said. "There was only one phone call, out of dozens, about poor people."
However, most people interviewed by The Sun were convinced that the state's fiscal crisis is real and that hard choices -- deep spending cuts, higher taxes, or both -- must be made. Many have personally felt the pinch of economic hard times.
"It's really rough out there. Nobody's hiring," said Faye Pass, 50, of Dundalk, who was laid off in April from her cannery job of 25 years. She said she is four checks away from exhausting her unemployment benefits.
"Just like one of the troopers said, I never believed it would hit me," she said.
Barbara Evans, 32, an unemployed mother of two in Westminster, paused outside a food pantry to say that she was just barely getting by now.
"I'm always running out of formula for my baby," she said. "This month my bills were a little more than my [welfare] check. . . . Even in Carroll County, they're always doing something to the roads, there's always some construction going on. They need to take that money and use it to help the needy."
James Perc, 26, an unemployed printer from Gardenville, lashed out at Governor Schaefer: "He didn't cut his own salary, did he? I think it's a crock. He probably will raise taxes in the end."
William Cullip, a 59-year-old retired teacher from Joppa, agreed that Mr. Schaefer was using the public safety cutbacks as a threat.
"It's pure shock, but people need to be shocked to understand how serious it is out there," he said. "I hate taxes, but I'd rather pay a little more in taxes than see people get hurt."
Karl Reicharz, an Edgemere retiree, said he "really wouldn't mind paying an extra penny in sales tax. They say it would bring in
$300 million. I don't know why the big fuss."
Anthony Welch, a Johns Hopkins University graduate student, said he was willing to pay higher taxes to preserve basic services "as long as the money is being spent responsibly."
Others said chronic government inefficiency was to blame for the crisis.
One caller to WBAL proposed firing all middle-management personnel in state government. A WCBM talk-show caller challenged the governor to cut the contingent of state troopers assigned to guard him.
"I have no qualms with cutbacks," said Janet Young Bell, an unemployed addictions counselor in Annapolis. "You go into most public facilities and you can't find someone to help you and if you do, they don't know where to look. If I had control over a department like that I'd fire people."
State troopers are needed, "but the payroll is loaded up on the other end, with administrators," said Fred Schiesser, an Essex tavern owner.
Cedric Stewart, a 21-year-old ex-Marine and part-time shoe salesman from Edgewood, said the cuts had erected a roadblock in his career path.
"I just really wanted to be a state trooper, but I guess it won't be in Maryland," he said.