The Board of Public Works today approved sweeping budget cuts that will eliminate the jobs of 1,766 state employees and gut some welfare, drug treatment and medical assistance programs.
The package, proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, slashes $450 million to balance the state budget in the wake of a deep, nationwide recession that has drastically lowered tax revenues. The cuts will take effect next month.
"Never in my wildest imagination did I think a governor would recommend cuts in programs that make him very sad," a somber Schaefer told his colleagues on the board.
The news got even worse today when Schaefer said he just learned that sales tax revenues are running $13 million below the most pessimistic previous estimates. That could mean more cuts in the future, he said.
While the board passed the measure by a 2-1 vote, hundreds of state troopers, advocates for social programs and union leaders protested outside the State House.
The budget package will eliminate welfare and medical aid to the temporarily disabled, slash money for drug treatment programs, close two Maryland State Police barracks and eliminate counseling and education programs for prisoners. It also will reduce money for health programs, colleges and universities, and local governments.
Board members Schaefer and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein voted for the budget-cutting package. Treasurer Lucille Maurer voted against it.
Maurer lost her bid to delay the most onerous cuts until Friday to give the state legislature time to consider alternatives to the cuts, such as higher taxes or different reductions.
Eyes are now turning to R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, to see if he will agree to consider tax increases to offset some of the cuts.
The tax-wary Mitchell, however, said yesterday he did not see a need to call a special legislative session on taxes this month.
Instead, he said, he wants to wait to see if the budget cuts are as devastating as predicted. "People are already talking about a special session, and the ink isn't even dry yet" on the budget-slashing proposal, the Eastern Shore Democrat said.
Nonetheless, Mitchell is likely to be bombarded by citizens who want him to change his mind.
Advocates for the poor, state troopers, government workers, union leaders and local politicians have been urging the state's top officials to prevent such drastic reductions.
Angry callers have jammed the telephone lines at the offices of Maurer and Goldstein.
Maurer said she was troubled by aspects of the proposal, such as eliminating Med-Evac emergency service for four hours a day. The helicopters transport critically injured people to special trauma centers around the state.
Lawmakers could reverse the cuts by raising taxes, by making alternative cuts that require legislative approval, or a combination of the two.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he is willing to meet in special session to address the budget.
"My philosophy is that there should be a forum for competing ideas," said Miller, D-Prince George's.
Lawmakers studying the state's finances should have a clearer picture of the budget problem within a week, he said.
At that time, a decision should be made as to whether a special session should be called, he said.
Mitchell, however, said he would like lawmakers who have been studying the state's taxes and expenditures this summer to finish their review before legislators decide how to solve the budget woes.
Wait until November, when the cuts would take effect, he said yesterday. "You got to give the cuts a chance to work. They may not be as devastating," Mitchell said.
Carol Arscott, an aide to House Republicans, wondered why Schaefer did not cut out more frills. As an example, she pointed to expensive-looking newsletters printed by various state agencies.
The drastic nature of the cuts had some legislators and lobbyists wondering if Schaefer chose them for shock value, in order to fuel public support for tax increases.
Some wondered, for example, why he eliminated two police barracks instead of making across-the-board reductions.
Schaefer said he did not base his budget cuts on politics. Instead, he said, he avoided cutting programs that directly affect people, during four rounds of budget cuts in the past 13 months. "If I had another alternative, I'd do it."
While Schaefer hinted broadly that there are alternatives to his current budget-slashing plan, he refused to call for a tax increase yesterday.
He did say, however, that he had offered a solution in January -- a not-too-veiled allusion to his bill to revamp the taxation system and raise $800 million in new taxes. Legislators rejected the bill.
Despite a long-running feud with lawmakers, Schaefer said he did not blame them for avoiding substantial tax increases. "I've got to defend the legislature. . . . They did exactly what the taxpayers told them to do in the last election. They said no new taxes. Cut back on government."
Schaefer instead pointed to Marylanders who suffer from "compassion burnout." He said a middle-income man complained to him about taxes and told him he was feeling "compassion burnout." The man did not want to help anyone any more with his taxes because he had enough of his own problems, the governor said.
"Are we our brother's keeper? Have we entered the point . . . where we just don't care any more?" the governor asked.
Union leaders spent yesterday either caucusing or complaining about the cuts.