Budget Cuts Could Be Tax Hike Ploy, Legislators Say

Governor's Latest Proposal Leaves Many Bitter

October 02, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Even as Gov. William Donald Schaefer was proposing the closure of two state police barracks yesterday, troopers remained on guard outsidehis vacant Pasadena town house.

Schaefer's priorities left countylawmakers wondering if his proposed $450 million budget cuts, including the layoff of 1,766 employees, is a ploy to force them to pass new taxes.

"I suspect he's cut everything from motherhood to apple pie to force the legislature to pass a tax increase," said Delegate John Gary,R-Millersville. "If that's the case, I don't think it will fly."

"There are two things the public won't stand for -- cuts in public safety and cuts in education," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park. "He's making the state police do his leg work."

Troopers at the Annapolis and Glen Burnie barracks were bitter yesterday. They were quick to point out that no cuts have been made to Schaefer's personal staff of five troopers who guard his town house in Pasadena or to his executive protection unit of 30 troopers.

"They are starting to take away from the counties where there are county police departments," said Cpl. Michael Alt, vice president of the Trooper's Association Lodge 13. "We are preparing for the worst."

Alt said his co-workers are concerned that the next barracks to go would be the ones in Glen Burnie and Rockville.

Lawmakers said the telephones at their State House and district offices rang off the hook yesterday as citizens voiced outrage at the proposed state trooper layoffs, cutbacks inthe Medevac helicopter rescue unit and cuts in financial and medicalaid to the state's poorest residents.

"They are really hitting atthe basic treatment and hot line crisis services," said Delegate Marsha G. Perry, D-Crofton. "(Schaefer) has taken the most vulnerable people programs and slashed them. He doesn't (cut) executive programs. Maybe in a time like this you have to cut some executive salaries andexecutive-level programs."

Schaefer has gotten the attention of the public and lawmakers, but he may have underestimated the reaction.Legislators predicted little support for a tax increase in the General Assembly or among constituents.

"When he starts cutting the drug and alcohol treatment programs and aid to the poorest of the poor, I think he's looking in the wrong areas," said Delegate Phillip Bissett, R-Mayo. "Why didn't he look at his own staff first?

"What makes me angry is that I'm afraid this ultimately will hurt these programs," said Perry. "I don't think my constituents are going to say, 'Pass a tax increase.' I think they will dig their heels in and say don'tgive him anything. These programs will dry up."

In Annapolis, state workers were angry and worried. Sitting at lunch counters or strolling City Dock, state employees -- all of whom nervously insisted they not be named -- raged over the cuts.

"We can afford to build a new stadium, but we're laying people off?" said one man. "If I as an individual am having to live without an increase in salary, and havingto cut back in my own life and household, which I am doing, why can't the state government do the same? Why continue to spend? Why all the stupid construction in the state?"

Another man, eating lunch in the sun, criticized the road construction on the way to Ocean City. "We've spent too much money on things like the thoroughfare to the beach -- one big highway to the beach -- big deal," he said.

State employees were particularly incensed over the cuts in the police force.

"What happens to a woman driving down I-95 at night?" demanded one middle-aged worker.

But state workers weren't the only ones angry over the layoffs. Said Kevin Wallace, 28, who works for an Annapolis business, "If they lay 'em off, what are people going to do? How are they going to take care of their families? It's creating more problems."

Yesterday, Schaefer hinted at "alternatives" that might avert hardships caused by the budget cuts and layoffs, but the governor has not asked the legislature for a tax increase. And House Speaker Clayton Mitchell, D-Eastern Shore, has said he will not consider one when the House of Delegates goes back into special session tomorrow.

"I'm not saying it will pass," said Jimeno, "but I wouldn't be surprised if a revenue increase came up before the special session is over."

Delegate Tyras S. "Bunk" Athey, D-Jessup, and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers have been analyzing potential new taxes and fees as well as budget cuts all summer. But evenif the legislature could clear the political obstacles to new taxes,it could not do anything by Nov. 1, when the layoffs go into effect.

Most lawmakers said they would rather see cuts than new taxes.

"I have sympathy for the people who are being hurt by these cuts," said Delegate John Astle, D-Annapolis. "Any time people lose their job, it's a tragedy. But the private sector has been struggling with this for some time. I don't know that the public sector should be immune."

Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Ferndale, said, "There are $400 million worth of things we can cut. With the way of the economy and the mood of the people, that's what we should do."

Some citizens agreed hardships are unavoidable. Said Vera Spatt, who works in Annapolis, "I would rather see cuts somewhere besides taking people's jobs, but Idon't see what else they could cut."

Albert Pritchett, a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, said blaming the governor is too simplistic.

"This isn't one person's fault. Somebody let Schaefer do what he did," Pritchett said. "It's not a good economy. Layoffs aren't nice, but we have to balance the budget or we'll be in more trouble."

Staff writers Kris Antonelli, Jay Apperson and Angela Gambill contributed to this story.

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