County Executive Robert R. Neall's long honeymoon ends today when hegoes head-to-head with angry labor leaders vowing to fight wage cutsand layoffs.
Gov. William Donald Shaefer's latest plan to slash another $7.9 million in aid to Anne Arundel has forced Neall into the sort of conflict with county workers he so far has been able to avoid.
Neall had persuaded employees to forgo this year's cost-of-livingincrease and, just a week ago, absorbed an expected $9.3 million cutin state aid without reaching into their pocketbooks. But he said yesterday workers can no longer remain unscathed.
"There is absolutely no way the county can absorb another $8 million in cuts without affecting services and personnel," said Louise Hayman, Neall's press secretary, adding the executive is not yet ready to support a tax increase.
If the legislature approves the governor's latest cost-cutting plan, which takes $68.3 million from Baltimore and the 23 counties,county workers either will have to make wage concessions or face layoffs, Hayman said.
"I don't think there's any department in countygovernment -- and that includes the school board, libraries and social services -- that is going to be held harmless," she said. "There are no sacred cows here."
That news did not sit well with labor leaders, who were preparing yesterday to do battle with Neall.
"We'renot going to stand still for making any concessions," said James Bestpitch, vice president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 582. The local represents 950 blue-collar workers. "There are enough areas he can cut that he hasn't touched yet that would cover that $8 million, without layoffs. We cannot accept layoffs, no matter what."
Neall will meet with all six county unions, representing 2,300 members, this afternoon.
"He's going to be prepared to show them there's nothing else to cut," Hayman said.
Payroll accounts for 80 percent of the county's $616.6 million budget. That figure already is set to drop to $606.6 million Nov. 1, whenNeall's $10 million reduction plan -- which was developed before thelatest cuts were announced -- takes effect.
Hayman said Neall chose to trim salaries now because he expects further state cuts to local governments later, when much of the payroll budget would be spent. "We have to be prepared for further cuts down the line," she said.
Other county leaders, however, are wondering whether Neall isn't being premature.
Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, R-Arnold, said layoffs and pay cuts ought to be a last resort. "I have some questions as to whether Anne Arundel County is at that point now. I certainly don't want teachers laid off," Evans said.
Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum, said he will propose furloughing all employees, from department heads on down, for four days.
"Why don't we sit down with theunions and see if they're willing to take one day off each quarter?"Bachman said. "That's the least harmful way to do it. No one wants to see their salary cut."
Hayman said a four-day furlough, not including school and Anne Arundel Community College employees, would saveabout $1.8 million. She said officials discussed furloughs during a meeting yesterday, but dismissed the idea because the labor force would be reduced. She said Neall wants employees to accept a pay cut.
"Wage concessions would not reduce the work force," Hayman said. "(Neall) thinks it will better serve the public and affect the economy less."
But Bestpitch said Neall can expect a bitter fight over wageconcessions, since workers feel other cost-cutting measures have notbeen exhausted.
"There are hundreds of contractual employees running around. Those people should go before anything, and he should make some serious cuts in management," he said. "A lot of county employees see a lot of waste every day. He should talk to them."
Neall has not scheduled talks today with teachers, since the four unions thatrepresent school employees negotiate their contracts with the Board of Education. The school board must decide how to make its own cuts.
School unions also are adamantly opposed to wage concessions.
Tom Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, is calling on parents and community leaders to lobby state and local legislators to avoid education cuts, even if that means raising taxes.
If the reductions are made, "It will mean the end of education as we know it in Anne Arundel County," Paolino said. "All the educational improvements we've made over the last 20 years will be gone."
The Senate Budget and Taxation and the House Appropriations committees will hold a public hearing at 9 a.m. today for county executives and boards of education to comment on the governor's latest strategy for reducing a $450 million state deficit.
State legislators are expected to vote on the plan this afternoon. If it is passed, Neallhas asked the County Council to meet with him this afternoon.