Assembly trims legislators' district office budgets by 5%

December 04, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- General Assembly leaders tightened their own belts yesterday, cutting by slightly more than 5 percent what they intend to spend next year on district offices, out-of-state travel, newsletters, stationery, furniture, equipment and maintenance.

But the lawmakers said there was nothing they could do, short of amending the state Constitution, to stop their own salaries and per diem expenses from going up.

The Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from tampering with salaries once they are recommended by an independent commission and officially set at the start of each four-year term. As a result, the annual salaries for delegates and senators will increase from $27,000 to $28,000 on Jan. 1, 1993 -- the midpoint of the 1993 fiscal year.

Reimbursement for meals and lodging while lawmakers are on official business in Annapolis will rise from $94 to $98 a day, effective the same date.

Even with those increases, the $37.7 million General Assembly budget for fiscal 1993, recommended yesterday by a subcommittee of the Legislative Policy Committee, is $2.1 million less than the budget appropriated for the current fiscal year. The TC full committee is scheduled to vote on the budget next week. If approved as expected, it will be forwarded to Gov. William Donald Schaefer for automatic inclusion in his overall state budget.

The latest reductions include a cut of $1,500 per legislator in the funds authorized for operation of district offices, including rent, telephones, postage, office supplies, equipment and contractual help. District office accounts for senators will drop from $18,265 a year to $16,765; accounts for delegates will be cut from $17,007 to $15,507.

Funds allocated for out-of-state travel by lawmakers, already reduced from $150,000 in fiscal year 1991 to $97,475 this year, will drop to $40,000 next year.

"We can't ask others to do it unless we do it ourselves first," said House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent. Legislative leaders are working with Governor Schaefer to find ways to eliminate a budget deficit over the next 18 months that is now estimated to exceed $1 billion.

William S. Ratchford II, director of the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services, said all pay increases for legislative staff, including normal "step" increases, were denied for the coming year. In effect, 5 1/2 budgeted jobs also will be eliminated and several others held vacant as part of the cost-cutting effort.

The lawmakers recommended elimination of funds used to print the Annapolis Report, a generic end-of-session newsletter that lawmakers from at least 10 legislative districts send to their constituents. Funds for Your Voice in Annapolis, a glossy brochure for the public describing the General Assembly, were eliminated.

Outside printing of personal stationery for each lawmaker was slashed to save $79,000. In its place, simpler stationery will be printed in-house for about $30,000, Mr. Ratchford said.

Legislative leaders directed the staff to ignore a 5 percent increase in dues the state pays to belong to the National Conference of State Legislatures; it will send instead the same amount paid this year: $89,000.

"Just send them the check we sent in last year. When they cash it, it is payment in full," said House Appropriations Chairman Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's.

The subcommittee considered reducing a $150,000 contingency fund, but decided against it, fearing the legislature may need the money to defend its action in court against a lawsuit attempting to overturn its congressional redistricting map.

Members also suggested cutting the $16,000 spent on the coffee that fuels lawmakers during the often interminable legislative hearings. Ultimately, however, they decided that would be too drastic.

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