State Cuts Create Problems Which Could Be Expensive

October 06, 1991|By JOHN W. FRECE | JOHN W. FRECE,John Frece is chief of The Sun's State House bureau.

ANNAPOLIS — Annapolis. -- For those who saw Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan this past week to slash government services in Maryland by $450 million and thought things could not get worse, just wait.

Many of the reductions ordered by Mr. Schaefer to get the state's budget back in balance will actually create bigger problems as time goes by, almost certainly costing the state more money in the long-run than was saved in the short-run.

By firing State Police officers, freezing the hiring of more parole and probation officers and prison guards, by cutting the public ,, defender's office budget, and eliminating some medevac helicopter service, life for Marylanders could also become more dangerous.

"All these things are going to come back to haunt us," Mr. Schaefer grimly predicted.

Many of the reductions in one area of government also will compound problems in another. For example:

A cut in welfare payments may increase homelessness and probably will result in more crime. A cut in drug addiction treatment will boost medical costs and probably expand the spread of AIDS. A cut in tax collectors will obviously make it harder to collect taxes at a time when the state needs revenue more than ever.

"All of us are contributing to each other's problems," said state housing secretary Jacqueline H. Rogers. "We all need to think how these problems play off each other."

* By cutting education, recreation, counseling and other programs for inmates in state prisons, the state opens itself to a new round of lawsuits that could be not only costly, but difficult to defend.

Inmates who now earn up to 15 days a month in good-time credit for going to school or working prison jobs may lose 10 of those days, extending by months the time they serve in tense, understaffed prisons that are already jammed way beyond capacity.

With little or nothing to do, prisons that are tinderboxes will become more likely than ever to explode.

"When you have overcrowding, and you have a lot of idle inmates, in this business that is typically the appropriate recipe for trouble," said a worried Jon P. Galley, warden of the Roxbury Correctional Institution, a Hagerstown prison built for 720 inmates which now houses 1,700.

Denied prison jobs, inmates will not even be able to earn enough to buy basic items at the prison commissary, forcing the state instead to provide them, Mr. Galley predicted.

"It just snowballs and feeds on itself," he said. "If you save a dollar, you may end up spending that dollar and more elsewhere."

* The biggest single budget cut, one that saved the state $96 million, was the decision to stop giving General Public Assistance benefits and medical care to 24,000 disabled adults who have no other means of income and who qualify for no other state or federal welfare programs except food stamps.

"The poorest of the poor," Mr. Schaefer called them.

"Almost certainly, many of them will become homeless," said Elizabeth Bobo, deputy secretary of human resources. "It will exacerbate pressure on the drug and addiction programs, the emergency shelters, on food kitchens, and will have a greater impact on prisons."

She said 18,000 of the 24,000 GPA recipients live in Baltimore, a city with such serious financial problems of its own that it already is talking about laying off workers because of a separate $115 million reduction in state aid to it and other local governments.

* The public defender's office, doing anything it can to avoid eliminating the staff lawyers who stand at the side of criminal defendants who cannot otherwise afford representation, cut the money they would have spent producing transcripts for appeals and hiring outside "panel attorneys."

The potential result: Persons convicted of crimes who are unable to appeal their cases could have those convictions reversed on a technicality, putting back on the street criminals who otherwise would have remained in prison.

In cases in which there are conflicts between two or more defendants, there would be no outside "panel attorneys" available, and such cases might not go to trial at all.

"Many offenders will be released because there are no lawyers. It actually will choke the criminal justice system," the governor predicted.

* Because hundreds of jobs in the Department of Human Resources have been eliminated or kept vacant to save money, much of the remaining staff has been shifted to handle the ever-increasing numbers of applicants for welfare benefits. About 215,000 Marylanders are now on the rolls, the highest level in a decade, and department officials say there is no end in sight to the increase.

But that leaves fewer state workers to monitor whether those recipients are still eligible, increasing the likelihood that people who are no longer qualified are still receiving benefits. That means the state will probably be paying more for welfare than it should.

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