Montgomery Co. workers stage sleep-in over budget Hundreds defy cuts in nightlong protest

October 29, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Correspondent

ROCKVILLE -- Hundreds of Montgomery County government workers, angered that their jobs bear the brunt of a no-tax spirit, rallied last night in support of a higher local budget. To emphasize their point, scores spent the night inside the County Council building.

"What we have to do is send the council a message," said Vincent Foo, president of the Montgomery County Public Employees Council, to a crowd of some 400 workers who gathered on the building's steps.

The nine-member council is slated to vote today on a budget guideline for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The council is considering budget ranges of $1.47 billion to $1.55 billion. Those budgets would leave deficits respectively of $185 million to $102 million compared to current-year services.

But the county government workers' unions, already facing proposed furloughs during the current fiscal year, want a budget of $1.58 billion for the next budget year.

Tom Israel, of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said even with the unions' proposal, there would still be a budget deficit over current services of $80 million.

He said he hoped that money could be saved through service cutbacks rather than layoffs or furloughs of the county's 20,000-member work force.

Charles H. Sherer, a legislative analyst with the County Council, told a reporter that without additional revenue, however, the county is faced with making major cuts, including possible layoffs. "It looks that way, looking at the numbers," he said.

The council is considering a proposal from County Executive Neil Potter that would furlough county workers for eight days this fiscal year and seek $11 million through increasing the county's energy tax. That tax would put a $38 charge on the current $50-per-household tax.

County public schools also would have to find $7.3 million in cuts.

County workers said last night they have had enough and called for tax increases rather than furloughs or layoffs.

"Stop slashing our pay," cried Tom McNutt, president of Local 400, Montgomery County Government Employees Association. "We need to generate revenue."

"Teachers and county employees . . . are tired of balancing the budget on their own backs," said Jane Stern, Maryland State Teachers Association president.

"Let's get the money. . . . It went into the pockets of rich people," she said.

"Workers united will never be defeated," said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who used the occasion to bring up the notion of running for the presidency next year. He later said he would make an announcement this weekend on that subject.

"The decision's still in formation," he said.

Inside the council chambers, scores of workers and some family members settled in for the night with box lunches and blankets.

Kindergarten teacher Laurie Collins carried a blanket and pillow and prepared to head inside the building. She said tax burdens should be "fair for everyone" and county workers should not "suffer."

The workers would be allowed to spend the night, said Capt. William Henry of the county fire marshal's office.

Council President Isiah Leggett addressed the disgruntled crowd in the council chamber. As he fielded questions, one man yelled from the audience, "We don't work for free!"

Mr. Leggett reminded the workers that the General Assembly has the say on whether the county can raise local income taxes.

The president did not say what budget ceiling would likely win council support. But in an interview earlier, he said all the budget proposals for next year will make Montgomery County face an inevitability -- the "permanent down-sizing" of county government.

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