Legislators at odds over fixing deficit Tax increases, special session are discussed.

October 04, 1991|By John Fairhall and Marina Sarris | John Fairhall and Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Legislators are wringing their hands over the state's budget crisis, but they have not come near to agreeing on how to solve it.

A state senator introduced a minor tax bill that would restore some cuts to the state police and MedEvac helicopter program yesterday, while key delegates are hoping to persuade the governor to reconsider his $450 million budget-slashing plan.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, however, has his own ideas.

He wants the legislature to come up with a more far-reaching plan to counteract the sweeping budget cuts approved Wednesday.

Although shy about the using the word "taxes," Schaefer has hinted repeatedly that tax increases could solve the problem.

The cuts, proposed by Schaefer and passed by the Board of Public Works, will leave 1,766 government employees without jobs in November and will gut certain welfare, Medicaid, health ,, and drug treatment programs.

The cuts also will eliminate counseling and education programs for prisoners and reduce state aid for health programs, colleges and universities, and local governments.

Schaefer is "willing to discuss alternatives," but within limits, said an aide, Daryl C. Plevy.

"His concern on that is he wants to look at the big picture," she said yesterday. "If you're talking about picking and choosing, he's got some big concerns. There are an awful lot of people affected by these cuts."

Plevy speculated that the "governor would have some real problems with a bill" such as the one backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

That bill, introduced yesterday by Sen. William Amoss, D-Harford, would restore cuts in the Med-Evac helicopter program and save the jobs of two-thirds of the 83 Maryland State Police troopers who have received pink slips.

The bill would raise $2.8 million this fiscal year by imposing a sales tax on purchases at hospital and college cafeterias.

Miller has called the police cuts "insane."

In Schaefer's defense, Plevy said, the police agency has not been hit as hard as other agencies. Given the other cuts affecting thousands of people, she said, "all [Schaefer's] saying is don't lose sight -- because of lobbying or political pressure -- of the big picture."

Nonetheless, a large-scale tax increase -- the "big picture" solution that Schaefer seems to be suggesting -- does not appear likely at the moment. Many legislators, particularly in the House of Delegates, remain reluctant to embrace tax increases during a recession.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. does not want the legislature to address the budget crisis right now. He told fellow delegates that he does not "feel there's a need for a special session" to deal with the budget "at this time."

Mitchell said the legislature should continue studying state spending and revenues in order to find a long-term solution. The study, begun this summer, will not be ready until January, when the legislature meets in regular session, said Appropriations Committee Chairman Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's.

At least one House leader hoped to meet with the governor today in an effort to persuade him to delay implementing the cuts while lawmakers help him devise a solution.

An attorney general's opinion issued yesterday said the Board of Public Works could reconsider the cuts until they take effect, at which point the board could not rescind its action.

After that, the only way to undo the cuts would be for the legislature to raise taxes.

Unlike Mitchell, Senate leader Miller wants the legislature to take up the budget issue now. All ideas should be discussed, including tax increases, a "one-shot" special lottery and furloughs of state workers, Miller said.

"We're elected to be problem-solvers," said Miller, a comment that could be construed as a slap at the House.

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