9 protesters freed after arrests at Schaefer's office Group was seeking a tax increase to offset budget cuts.

November 20, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

One of a group of protesters sitting outside the governor's Baltimore office handed a buddy a muffin, telling him to eat a piece and then pass it around -- for the "symbolism."

The Coalition to Overturn the Budget Cuts strove to symbolize their unity yesterday -- members snacked together, sang together, argued with gubernatorial staff members together and finally nine of them got arrested together for trespassing at the closed state office building.

All were released on their own recognizance today. The nine, representing some state workers, college students and social services recipients, protested all day yesterday against state budget cuts that hurt their groups.

Freed today were William Bolander, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92; and fellow union representatives Peter Moralis, Patricia Bevan, Marilyn McGhee, Lynn Josephs, Ronald Dyson and Jeffrey Bigelow, police said. Sharon Ceci, a college student, and Bill Workman of Act-Up Baltimore also were released.

The group hopes to persuade Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the legislature to raise taxes on corporations and Marylanders with annual salaries above $90,000 before January. They want the additional revenue

used to restore the sweeping cuts made to education, health programs, social services and the state work force.

At noon, they camped outside Schaefer's office on West Preston Street and refused to leave until they received a commitment from him to talk with them. However, the governor was in Annapolis.

About 5 p.m., Schaefer's press secretary, Frank Traynor, told the protesters he would try to set up a meeting today, but they were not impressed.

Call the governor now and ask him for his commitment to meet with us, they said.

Wait until morning, when I will talk to him, Traynor replied.

The protesters dug in their heels. So did Traynor.

"The only way you will get us out of this building is to arrest us," said Moralis of AFSCME, one of the unions representing state employees, 1,200 of whom were fired this month due to budget cuts.

Traynor urged the protesters to leave the building, which had closed for the night, rather than "getting busted" for trespassing.

At one point, he asked if their symbolism was for show -- the television news shows. "Is the main reason you're here to be reasonable . . . or to get on the 6 o'clock news? I don't see any reason you folks need to be arrested," Traynor said.

Ceci, who faces higher college tuition due to budget cuts, told Traynor he was being unreasonable. "We asked you to make one lousy phone call" to Schaefer, she said.

Ironically, the protesters were representing groups that had supported Schaefer earlier this year when he introduced an $800 million tax increase package that angered many Marylanders.

The package died in the legislature, a victim of the recession, the tax revolt movement and the belief that government should be made smaller.

Schaefer stopped calling for tax increases this fall, saying citizens just did not want them. But he continued to hint broadly that only tax increases could save the state from more devastating cuts.

Those hints, however, were not enough for some. "Before, [Schaefer] was gung-ho about tax increases and we viewed that as positive, but now he's like the ostrich that puts his head in the sand," Bolander said.

The state has chopped $1 billion to balance its budget since last fall, as the national recession has sent revenues falling. Maryland faces even more cuts this year and next.

Legislative leaders refused to take up the tax issue until their regular session begins in January.

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