Ideas for layoff alternatives pour in Sales tax shortfall could mean more cuts, governor warns.

October 03, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

How about a special lottery to keep Maryland government afloat?

That suggestion and others came pouring in yesterday after the Board of Public Works approved a $450 million budget-slashing plan that will leave 1,766 state government workers without jobs next month.

Just about every group hurt by the sweeping cuts has an idea about how to prevent them from taking effect in November. Various union leaders have recommended early retirements for state workers, furloughs and even pay cuts for State Police as possible solutions.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he found some of the suggestions appealing during these "desperate times" of budget shortfalls. "Early retirements, furloughs and the elimination of contractual employees are methods utilized in other states," said Miller, D-Prince George's.

But the times appear likely to get worse.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said the state faces still another $13 million budget shortfall because it collected less in sales taxes in August and September than expected. That could mean more cuts in the near future, he said.

Yesterday marked the fifth round of budget cuts during the past 13 months, as Maryland tries to cope with a nationwide recession.

The governor has said he will consider alternatives to yesterday's cuts, but some contend that he has not shown much interest in their money-saving ideas.

The State Police offered to accept pay cuts, furloughs or early retirements to save 83 troopers from losing their jobs, said Sgt. Patrick Drum Sr., president of the Maryland Troopers Association.

"For some reason, no one wanted to listen to our idea of saving dollars," Drum said. "It fell on deaf ears."

Late yesterday, 16 legislators from Howard and Prince George's counties sent a letter to the Board of Public Works that proposed alternatives to the $2.6 million in police cuts. Their suggestions included a 3 percent pay cut for troopers, furloughs and early retirement for troop commanders.

Schaefer, however, does not appear to be entertaining suggestions that would save a few jobs here or several programs there.

Schaefer "is open [to suggestions.] He's wide open. But it has to be a plan that addresses the big picture," said his spokesman, Frank Traynor.

The governor has hinted that residents and legislators alike should consider tax increases to address the long-term problem.

Frederick W. Puddester, deputy secretary of budget and fiscal planning, said he had not seen some of most recent union and legislative proposals.

Generally speaking, "most of the [money-saving] suggestions, in a way, are nit-picking around the edges," he said.

Employee furloughs would save $4 million a day, he said, but would not solve the state's budget woes. "One of the problems with furloughs is, look what you've done to state employees already," Puddester said. They were hit by previous cost-cutting rounds that lengthened their workweek to 40 hours and eliminated scheduled pay raises, he said. "It's a lot for employees to take."

Some government workers, however, appear ready to shoulder an additional burden if it means saving their jobs. The Maryland Classified Employees Association, for one, offered a package of furloughs and early retirements yesterday.

The group also suggested an increase in the sales tax -- a politically unpopular idea at the moment -- and the creation of a special lottery to replenish revenue shortages.

Del. Charles J. Ryan, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said a special lottery probably would bring in only a small fraction of the $450 million that the state needs to balance its budget.

Senate President Miller did not rule out the lottery idea. "I have no problem whatsoever with a lottery whose revenues are designed for immediate assistance. Obviously, it cannot be a long-range solution. It could help retain the 83 police officers who were terminated summarily," Miller said.

Some lawmakers contend that the governor made certain unpopular cuts -- such as the police positions -- to pressure them into raising taxes before their regular session in January. Schaefer has denied it.

The budget package will eliminate welfare and medical aid to the temporarily disabled, slash money for drug treatment programs, shut 17 rape crisis programs and eliminate counseling and education programs for prisoners. It also will reduce money for health programs, colleges and universities, and local governments.

In Annapolis yesterday, hundreds of uniformed troopers and their supporters marched to the State House to protest the closing of the Security and College Park barracks. Some left in tears, however, after learning of the Board of Public Works' 2-1 vote in favor of the cuts, which also would eliminate the jobs of 25 civilian police employees.

Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein voted with Schaefer on the board. The board's other member, Treasurer Lucille Maurer, voted against.

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