Maryland's House and Senate leaders planned to begin talking again today about different ways to solve the state's budget crisis.
They hope to reach an agreement by Wednesday on an alternative to Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to cut the deficit-ridden budget by $450 million.
Schaefer's budget-balancing plan calls for firing 1,766 government workers, including 83 Maryland State Police troopers, and for heavy cuts in certain welfare, Medicaid, rape-crisis and drug-treatment programs next month.
The cuts, particularly to police and emergency medical services, prompted a public outcry last week. Nonetheless, many voters oppose higher taxes as an alternative approach, legislators said.
Some lawmakers criticized Schaefer for not asking them to help select the cuts. On Saturday, the governor agreed to give legislators until Wednesday to come up with alternatives to his plan.
Despite support among several Senate leaders and some rank-and-file delegates, the idea of raising taxes this fall to avert the most severe cuts does not appear to be popular.
"There's no consensus for any type of tax increase at this time," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.
"I personally believe there has to be a combination of both" new taxes and budget cuts, but taxes could not be raised until the public and the legislature believe that "fat has been eliminated from the budget," Miller said last night.
"We will be looking at alternative cuts," he added. "The bottom line is alternative cuts invariably mean that the subdivisions share more of the burden."
Although poorer jurisdictions such as Baltimore need all of their state aid, some of the richer counties may be able to absorb the loss of some state money, he said.
Miller noted that Anne Arundel County found enough money to offer jobs to some of the troopers the state is firing.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, has continued his hard-line stance against new taxes during the budget crisis.
Meanwhile, Schaefer was expected to be in New York today for a port luncheon to be held for shipping industry executives. The governor missed a scheduled appearance in Baltimore yesterday at ceremonies involving the transfer of home plate from Memorial Stadium to the new baseball stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Schaefer spokesman Frank Traynor said the governor had to miss the ceremonies because he learned of the death of a friend shortly before the Orioles' final game.