ANNAPOLIS -- The governor and legislative leaders reached agreement last night on a compromise deficit reduction plan that will save state police jobs, continue full medevac service, resurrect the General Public Assistance welfare program and restore a variety of treatment, education and social services programs.
But Gov. William Donald Schaefer defused a potentially explosive issue by refusing to go along with legislative proposals to cut state aid for public schools or to order state employees to work five to seven days without pay.
What Mr. Schaefer proposed instead -- and what legislators said last night they were willing to accept -- was a plan that cuts another $68.3 million in state aid to Baltimore and the 23 counties. A third of that is for Social Security and pension contributions for teachers and librarians.
The balance will be cut from money redistributed to jurisdictions from the state's 21-cent property tax. The new wave of cuts in state aid to local jurisdictions comes on top of $115 million in reductions in local aid approved by the Board of Public Works just a week ago.
To cushion that blow, legislative leaders were preparing last night to announce, possibly as early as today, that any tax package put before the 1992 General Assembly will have to include measures to broaden the tax authority of local subdivisions.
In addition to the reductions in local aid, Mr. Schaefer's plan calls for benefits paid to recipients under the state's major welfare program, Aid for Families with Dependent Children, and the smaller General Public Assistance program to be rolled back to 1989 levels.
For an individual AFDC recipient, a monthly check for $134.55 will drop to $125.17, or by about 7 percent, said Deputy Budget Secretary Frederick W. Puddester. For the disabled, jobless adults who collect GPA benefits, the reduction would be about ** 12 percent, cutting a monthly check from $199.52 to $173.43.
To save state police and medevac jobs, to keep two medevac helicopter bases in Montgomery and Queen Anne's counties in operation, and to keep all medevac service in operation 24 hours a day, the governor and legislators agreed to cut $2 million from the state police budget for overtime pay, and another $590,000 from the troopers' clothing allowance.
Even with that, the police barracks in College Park and Security will be permanently closed, 22 civilians working there will lose their jobs, and 24 state police trainee slots will be eliminated. Mr. Schaefer also said the state police will be given six months to replace all sworn officers on desk jobs with civilians to put the officers back on the street.
But by restoring 59 troopers, plus three civilian pilots and approximately 150 to 200 correctional education employee jobs,
the total layoffs as a result of this round of
budget cuts is likely to drop from 1,766 to roughly 1,500, Mr. Puddester estimated.
Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said he would recommend that the House of Delegates approve the governor's suggestions and begin the task of drafting and voting on the legislation required to implement it.
The Senate reacted more cautiously, but after a meeting last night, Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said, "It looks like we're basically going to go along with it. There are some minor differences, but nothing major."
Mr. Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said they intend to take their response to Mr. Schaefer today and predicted the budget impasse could be resolved by the weekend.
The deficit problem has pushed the issue of congressional redistricting onto the back burner
Mr. Schaefer said he could not force himself to cut aid to education or order furloughs for state employees who already have gone without pay raises, been forced to work longer hours and been hit by higher health insurance costs.
The governor also held a rare face-to-face meeting with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke just before his meeting with legislators, and afterward stressed his concern that the city and several of the poorest counties could ill afford an additional wave reductions in state aid.
To lessen that impact, the governor's budget advisers devised a plan that takes into consideration the level of property taxes currently levied in each jurisdiction in calculating how much state aid each would lose. For example, Mr. Puddester said, a county such as Talbot, where the property tax rate is only 69 cents per $100 of assessed value (compared with a statewide average of $2.40), would be hit harder proportionately than Baltimore, where the tax rate is $5.90.
The governor also decided that no jurisdiction should suffer more than $10 million in additional reductions.
After their meeting, Mr. Schaefer described the legislators, with whom he has fought many bitter battles over the past five years, as "very receptive" to his plan.
These are among the programs cut in Mr. Schaefer's plan of a week ago that would be restored under the compromise:
* $3.9 million of $5 million cut from prison education programs;
* $1.7 million for a pre-kindergarten program that is especially important to Baltimore;
* $4.5 million out of nearly $9.3 million cut from drug and alcohol treatment centers;
* $1.25 million to restore day-care services for citizens with severe disabilities;
* $746,000 for in-home health care aides.
The compromise also restores $2.3 million for the state's private School for the Blind, but does so by ordering local jurisdictions to triple the current $200 per student payment for a student from their jurisdiction enters the school.
"We're not talking about any new taxes at all," Senate President Miller emphasized. "No taxes have been discussed. No taxes have been proposed, and I don't contemplate any taxes being enacted any time before 1992."