Is there a shock-trauma unit for battered budgets?
From the marbled halls of the State House to the paneled walls lTC of local government offices, officials decry Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to balance the state budget.
"Absolutely devastating," says Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke as he describes the $13.3 million cut the city is being asked to bear.
"Absolutely unacceptable" is the response from Parris N. Glendenning, the Prince George's County executive, who is facing another $21.2 million divot in his fiscal turf.
From Allegany to Worcester, local governments were put on notice yesterday that Schaefer wants them to absorb nearly two-thirds -- $142.5 million -- of the state's latest $225 million deficit. The total was nearly $50 million more than anticipated.
Key lawmakers criticized the proposal, too. But they were unable to come up with an alternative, and Schaefer gave them until Friday to sign on to his plan or figure some other way to get out of the mess.
The governor's proposal to deal with a deficit brought on by a sagging economy, revenue shortfalls and overruns in social programs got its public airing in Annapolis yesterday. Schaefer, relaxed and chatty as he discussed the plan, told reporters he was prepared for the reaction.
"We're going to hear that local governments can't absorb this," he said. "We're going to hear that nobody can absorb it. It isn't a matter of whether they want to or not. There it is -- that stark reality of figures and that's it."
Schaefer's plan, the latest in a series of budget-balancing acts, may not be the last. Unless the economy improves, Schaefer said, more cuts may be needed next spring.
Schaefer yesterday called for a $25 million reduction in state agency spending, another $26 million in postponements of capital projects and $16.5 million worth of state employee furloughs.
The furloughs could affect the governor himself. Higher-paid employees would have to take more time off without salary than lower-paid employees. Those making more than $50,000 would have to take off five days without pay before the fiscal year ends June 30.
State agencies will have to decide how to cut their spending, too. They can cut services to the public, fire more employees, or both. So far, about 1,500 state positions have been eliminated, although fewer people actually have been fired.
The proposal's political future is cloudy. Except for agency cuts, nearly all of Schaefer's plan requires General Assembly approval.
"I don't think we have the votes to pass that," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. He commented moments after leaving a tumultuous meeting of legislators wrestling with the money problems.
A panel of House and Senate members, known in Annapolis as "The Gang of 26," rejected Schaefer's plan to cut local aid yesterday but failed to offer an alternative.
Lawmakers asked Schaefer's fiscal experts to design a "what-if" budget that would indicate where the governor would spend money if he did not have legal mandates to fund specific education, health and welfare programs.
The rising tempers and profanity during the two-hour meeting prompted Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-City, to ask panel leaders to bring order.
"Call time out up there, somebody!" pleaded Blount.