ANNAPOLIS -- The General Assembly shifted another $68 million in budget-reduction pain to local governments yesterday, but convinced Gov. William Donald Schaefer to join in a search for ways to ease what local officials warned are destructive cuts.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said he had secured Mr. Schaefer's promise to delay signing the bill until next Thursday while the search for local government alternatives continues.
After a day in which legislative leaders struggled to overcome fevered lobbying by executives from the hardest-hit counties, the promise of further negotiations on behalf of the counties helped secure the 79-55 winning margin in the House.
With the budget bill passed, the Assembly adjourned until next Friday, when it will again confront the original purpose of the special session -- congressional redistricting.
Just how much negotiation will occur over further changes in the budget cuts was unclear last night. David S. Iannucci, Governor Schaefer's legislative aide, said the governor plans no proposals of his own but will listen to suggestions.
An additional push for the bill in the House came from passage of an amendment, later accepted by the Senate, that would give county executives more flexibility to reduce spending on education.
That authority was requested by Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, and the support of
his county's delegates was tied to its approval. The amendment would permit cuts in education spending -- except for classroom instruction and instructional materials.
In the Senate, where the bill passed 29-18, there was no announcement of House Speaker Mitchell's last-minute arrangement with Mr. Schaefer.
The rush to passage left the representatives of some counties furious that no revenue-raising alternatives were considered. But the bill offered at least temporary respite from the outcry of Marylanders caught in the bite of Mr. Schaefer's original budget-balancing proposal. That plan would have saved $450 million by firing more than 1,700 state employees and sharply reducing a wide range of programs.
Many of those state employees still will lose their jobs, but the most visible targets, state police troopers, were saved. Medevac helicopter service also was restored along with benefits for the 24,000 Marylanders receiving General Public Assistance, a category of aid reserved for the poorest and least able citizens.
Assembly leaders acknowledged that yesterday's action will increase severe budget problems already faced by Maryland's counties, many of which have fired workers and even raised taxes -- an action the legislature is putting off at least until it meets again in January.
Legislators said privately that the toughest decisions -- voting on new taxes -- were delayed until the state has a better handle on how deep its budget deficit will be for the remainder of this year and for the fiscal year beginning next July 1. The deficit for this year is expected to grow by as much as $150 million more, and to reach $700 million in the following year.
The bill passed yesterday offered legislators what Delegate Gene W. Counihan, D-Montgomery, described as "a choice of running headlong into a brick wall or running headlong over a cliff."
And, if the Assembly and the governor agree on yet another shifting of the budget-reduction pain next week, some other group of employees or programs will take the places of protest left vacant by the state troopers, the General Public Assistance recipients and the county executives.
Yesterday morning, executives from five of the state's hardest-hit counties spent 2 1/2 hours pleading with the Assembly to spare them.
Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening charged the Assembly with "dereliction of duty" in proposing to shift budget cuts to local government.