Looming budget cuts are threatening the first layoffs for Gov. William Donald Schaefer's Executive Department -- a specialized agency of more than 100 employees with a $4.5 million payroll.
Even so, Schaefer's staff will remain larger than that of any previous governor, with nearly a third of the employees receiving more than $50,000 a year.
Also, the Executive Department will attempt to find "safety nets," meaning jobs in other state agencies, for the handful of employees whose positions are eliminated, aides said.
Like most state agencies, the Executive Department so far has survived five rounds of budget cuts over 18 months without being forced to lay off a single employee.
While about 1,500 workers and job positions were put on the block during the last round of cuts in October, only 16 of the 56 agencies and branches of state government were affected.
But the next round -- which could come this month with a target as high as $200 million -- is bound to hit even Schaefer's staff.
The governor is considering cutting at least three staff workers if budget reductions planned for the 1993 fiscal year are put into effect sooner to absorb the December action, according to high-level Executive Department members.
Asked if a sixth round of budget cuts will hit close to his own staff, Schaefer replied: "Oh sure, more pain for my people. My people have suffered already."
In fact, the Executive Department has taken its share of monetary cuts with the rest of state government, albeit without layoffs.
Its $6.2 million budget in fiscal year 1990 rose to $6.9 million in 1991. It began the current 1992 fiscal year with a budget appropriation of more than $6.6 million. Two rounds of cuts later, it was reduced to its 1990 level of $6.2 million.
Schaefer has been able to avoid layoffs by reducing budgets for equipment, travel and supplies. During the last round of cuts in October, which amounted to a 6.2 percent reduction for nearly all state agencies, Schaefer OK'd cutting more than $341,000 in contractual services, mostly for boards and commissions.
The next round of cuts will probably force the Executive Department to implement spending restrictions six months sooner than it would have otherwise, according to Buddy Roogow, Schaefer's operations and public safety director.
Roogow said that the governor has drafted a proposal to set the department's 1993 fiscal spending at 12 percent below the 1991 appropriation.
Except for Schaefer and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who are elected and whose salaries are set by law, the governor's Executive Department is populated by political appointees -- the governor's inner circle -- and some longtime civil servants. They perform duties ranging from mail delivery to high-level policy making.
Schaefer has come under periodic criticism for creating new staff jobs that previous governors managed to do without.
Five years ago, for example, when Harry R. Hughes was governor, Hughes' Executive Department had 74 employees. At one point during Schaefer's tenure, the staff grew to 119.
In addition to expanding the department, Schaefer boosted salaries until a state-wide pay freeze went into effect this summer.
"He was always very generous with us," one former Schaefer aide said in reference to the governor's largess.
Schaefer argued that to assemble the best staff he had to offer salaries competitive with the private sector.
Criticism of state salaries had subsided until recently, when the state's financial crisis forced lawmakers to take a hard look at state spending.
One legislator, frustrated by efforts to balance the budget for a sixth time, took a shot at high-paid positions throughout the state bureaucracy that have managed to avoid the budget ax.
"We have some areas that were untouchable in the past that can't be untouchable anymore," said Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, who said budget-cutters should consider abolishing many middle-management jobs that pay $50,000 and more.
But laying off employees just because they earn high wages is not the way Schaefer deals with budget problems, said Paul E. Schurick, the governor's chief of staff.
Acknowledging that there are some Executive Department members who want to levy "symbolic reductions" on the governor's budget for the sake of public perception, Schurick said the governor needs a productive and professional staff, particularly in times of crisis.
"Making decisions based on symbolism is bad government," Schurick said. "You're supposed to make decisions based on logic and good public policy."