Protesters decry budget cuts Legislators may stop some of the more controversial slashes.

October 08, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff Thomas W. Waldron and Larry Carson contributed to this nTC story.

Scores of angry protesters converged on the State House today to wave signs and voice their outrage at severe budget cuts proposed by the governor.

Meanwhile, Senate and House leaders are nearing an agreement to stave off about one-fifth of those cuts -- such as to state police, welfare recipients and drug treatment programs -- without raising taxes.

To do so, lawmakers are considering additional cuts in state aid to local governments and schools, as well as furloughs and early retirements for state government workers, Del. Charles J. Ryan, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said today.

Schaefer's $450 million budget-balancing plan calls for firing 1,766 government workers and slashing welfare, police, prison, rape-crisis and drug-treatment programs.

The Board of Public Works approved the plan last week. Schaefer gave the legislature until tomorrow to come up with alternatives for him to consider before his plan takes effect next month.

Senate and House fiscal leaders met privately last night to discuss ways to restore some social and public safety programs by reducing other areas of the budget by about $85 million.

Taxes, however, were not on the table. "There's no support for tax increases," Sen. Laurence Levitan, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said after the meeting.

Nonetheless, Levitan repeated his call today for higher taxes and said the legislature, by shifting budget cuts, was simply shifting the pain from one group to another.

Other senators today urged their colleagues to look at the state's long-term financial health.

Legislators hope to present Schaefer with a plan to restore welfare to some of the 24,000 people being cut off the rolls, prevent some troopers from losing their jobs, and to keep Med-Evac helicopters in the air.

Schaefer's plan would eliminate the $40 million General Public Assistance Program, which provides $205 a month to 24,000 Marylanders with temporary disabilities.

Some legislators also would like to reverse plans to fire 83 troopers and close state police barracks in Security and College Park.

Instead, lawmakers would like to make other, less essential cuts in the police budget.

Legislators also are trying to find ways to reverse the planned elimination of early-morning Med-Evac service and two helicopter bases. Med-Evac helicopters transport seriously injured or ill people to hospitals.

That means cuts must be made elsewhere, such as in state aid to local governments.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. predicted that local governments would take a harder hit than the $115 million in cuts proposed by Schaefer.

He noted that some counties have lowered their property tax rates orincreased teachers' salaries during the past year.

The state, however, held off reducing aid to local governments but increased a few taxes and failed to give out scheduled employee pay raises.

Local governments managed to avoid deep cuts until last week, when Schaefer announced they would lose $115 million.

David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said local governments are facing tough times too.

"As an aggregate, the counties are in as bad as, or worse shape," than state government, Bliden said. Seven counties ended their 1991 budget years with deficits, he said, and at least four have laid off employees.

One jurisdiction that cannot afford to lose more state aid is Baltimore, legislators say.

The Maryland Taxpayers Association, a collection of tax protest groups based mainly in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, has submitted a list of items they would like to see cut.

They include the elimination of 3,000 state jobs; a 4 percent reduction in aid to local governments; the repeal or postponement of state aid to local schools; a 25 percent cut in state pension costs; and an increase in school class sizes.

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