Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke drew a dark picture yesterday of the potential impact of proposed cutbacks in state aid to local governments, predicting that he would have to fire hundreds of municipal workers, close libraries and drop children from preschool programs.
"To call these budget cuts devastating would be an understatement -- this is a tragedy," Mr. Schmoke told a news conference that was called to urge statewide support for an effort to reverse Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget plans. The governor's plan seeks to help Maryland climb out of a $450 million fiscal hole by reducing aid to local governments.
The proposed cuts would cost the city $21 million in this year's budget, and yesterday Mr. Schmoke sought to translate that into employees fired and services cut. Although precise details won't be made available until Monday, the mayor warned that:
* Between 700 and 800 city employees would have to be laid off.
* An unspecified number of library branches would have to be closed, library hours curtailed and 40 library employees dismissed.
* 1,200 children would be dropped from a prekindergarten program in 62 elementary schools that prepares 4-year-olds for school.
* The Police Department and Fire Department would each have to cut their budgets by as much as $3 million. Both agencies have been spared much of the budget cutting that has gone on since the mayor took office in 1987.
"This is a prospect I don't relish and think our citizens don't deserve," the mayor said.
But Mr. Schmoke said the city does not have the option of raising property taxes to make up the $21 million loss because the city's tax rate is already twice that of any other Maryland subdivision. The city would have to raise the property tax about 26 cents to cover the loss.
Mr. Schmoke said that the $450 million in cuts proposed by the governor would effect the city disproportionately because it is home to a majority of Maryland's poor.
For example, the mayor said the proposed elimination of the statewide General Public Assistance anti-poverty program could unleash a tidal wave of poor and homeless people onto the city's streets because about 60 percent of the state's poor already are city residents, and because Baltimore acts as a magnet for poor people living in other jurisdictions where programs have been cut.
The cuts could also affect several non-profit agencies that depend on the city for part of their budgets. The House of Ruth, the Sexual Assault Recovery Center, the Kennedy Institute and the Baltimore American Indian Center are among several private agencies that receive city grants.
Mr. Schmoke repeated his call for an emergency session of the General Assembly to raise taxes to cover the state budget shortfall, saying a revenue increase may be the only way to avert layoffs. He said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, has promised to seek such a session, and Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, the chairman of the city Senate delegation, said city legislators would support it.
"These budget cuts would devastate the city of Baltimore and throw us into a severe financial crisis," Mr. Pica said. "We've got to push and push hard."