Localities protest new cuts Revisions will mean "pure calamity," officials say.

October 10, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

The governor's latest plan to restore money for social and public safety programs by making deeper cuts in state aid to local governments will cause a "pure calamity," a spokesman for the counties said.

"Obviously, the first set of cuts were devastating, and these will be a pure calamity," said David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. "We have no way to raise any additional money during this fiscal year, and the only option left is to make cuts."

Local jurisdictions cannot raise property taxes in the middle of a budget year, Bliden said.

Instead, they will be forced to dip into education and other funds to balance their budgets, he predicted. "It's the middle-class people who will really feel it."

Residents of financially-troubled Baltimore have been feeling that budget pain for some time, said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke last night. Clarke, with other Baltimore residents, kept a night-long vigil at the State House to protest the cuts.

"People don't understand what it's going to mean to them," she said. "We know in Baltimore City because we've been through it for so long."

Bliden and Clarke were reacting to a proposal that Gov. William Donald Schaefer unveiled yesterday.

Schaefer still plans to cut $450 million to balance the fiscal 1992 budget, as he announced last week, but he now wants to rearrange the reductions to spare the state police, the poor and the drug-addicted.

He proposed cutting $70 million deeper into state aid to local governments -- reducing contributions to teachers' and librarians' pensions and other grants to the counties and Baltimore. Those cuts would come on top of the $115 million reduction to subdivisions he announced last week.

Schaefer and some lawmakers say a few counties may not be feeling the recession's pinch as much as the state. Anne Arundel County offered last week to hire some of the troopers the state could not afford to pay, officials said.

In exchange for the new reductions, Schaefer proposed restoring about $80 million worth of cuts to drug treatment, welfare, Med-Evac helicopter service, state police, rape crisis centers, elderly care, the Maryland School for the Blind and programs for troubled teen-agers.

With some fine-tuning, Schaefer's latest proposal appears likely to get the nod from the General Assembly, which came up with a somewhat similar plan this week.

"We're pretty close to an agreement with the governor," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. Some senators favor minor changes, he said.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. said he will recommend accepting the governor's latest plan.

The legislature will have to pass a bill allowing Schaefer to carry out the new reductions, a process that lawmakers expect to take only a few days.

About 1,500 state workers still would lose their jobs, down from the 1,766 firings in the budget-balancing plan Schaefer proposed last week.

The jobs of 59 state police troopers would be saved, and Med-Evac helicopters would resume their regular service, Schaefer said yesterday. Med-Evac units transport seriously injured or ill people to hospitals.

The governor is not calling for any new taxes now, apparently agreeing with legislative leaders who prefer to deal with a comprehensive tax package in January.

Schaefer rejected the legislators' idea of dipping into money for public schools. "I just didn't want to touch education," he said.

Still, he might be doing that indirectly through his roughly $185 million in cuts to local governments, said Bliden of MACO.

The cuts also will increase pressure on local governments to raise property taxes next year -- an equally unpopular prospect given the strength of the tax revolt movement in some areas.

Schaefer's newest proposal is structured so that a poorer area such as Baltimore City, which has a high property tax rate, would lose less state aid than richer counties that have lower tax rates.

Nonetheless, when all the cuts are tallied, Baltimore City still would lose a substantial chunk of money because it receives a high proportion of state aid. The city would lose a total of $21 million, while its richer neighbors, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, would lose $17.4 million and $27.8 million, respectively.

"When the General Assembly leaves Annapolis, our layoff slips go out -- we've been told 800," Clarke said.

Schaefer rejected a legislative plan that would have forced state workers to take from five to seven unpaid holidays before July 1, even though it would have saved up to $31.5 million, lawmakers said.

Those employees have suffered enough, Schaefer said. Under previous cost-cutting measures, Schaefer has lengthened their workweek to 40 hours and withheld scheduled pay raises.

After a public outcry, Schaefer compromised on his original proposal to fire 83 troopers and 25 civilian police employees. He still wants to close the College Park and Security barracks, but he plans to transfer 59 troopers to other barracks.

The current class of 24 police recruits and 22 civilians will lose their jobs, he said. Troopers also will have to give up some overtime pay and clothing allowances to prevent the larger-scale firings.

Schaefer also agreed with legislators about putting back programs that help "the poorest of the poor," many of whom live in Baltimore.

The General Public Assistance program for temporarily disabled adults would be restored, but the average monthly grant to a recipient would drop from about $200 to $173, said Fred Puddester, deputy secretary of budget and fiscal planning.

Households that receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children would see their average monthly checks decrease from $134 to $125, he said.

Programs in state prisons would be partially restored in order to provide a "minimal" level of education to inmates, Puddester said.

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