Baltimore in the new year

January 02, 1992

Baltimore faces some difficult choices in 1992, and ideas that formerly seemed unthinkable may have to be re-examined in a new light. One such idea is City Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo's proposal for across-the-board cuts in municipal salaries, a move aimed at staving off layoffs.

D'Adamo's idea puts the dilemma in its starkest terms: Would you rather have a job paying less money or no job at all? Baltimore is slated to lose some $13.3 million in state aid under Governor Schaefer's latest budget proposal, and Mayor Schmoke almost certainly will have to order layoffs. The city already has abolished vacant positions, forced city firefighters to give up negotiated pay raises and announced plans to furlough city teachers to cope with last year's budget crunch.

Under D'Adamo's plan, city workers who earn more than $50,000 a year would see salary cuts of 4 percent. Those earning under $50,000 -- which includes most of the city's 29,000 employees -- would have their paychecks cut by 2 percent. D'Adamo says the move would save about $16 million, enough to keep everybody working. One big problem will be getting city employee unions to go along with such a plan. The teachers, for example, say they already have taken a disproportionate hit from last year's cuts. The proposal also raises questions about the long-term effects of increasing the disparity in pay between city workers and those in the surrounding counties.

Against these considerations, of course, must be balanced the stark reality that most people probably would prefer keeping jobs that paid less than be unemployed. And the fact is the city would still end up paying for those who couldn't find other jobs -- in the form of higher unemployment and welfare costs. With nearly a sixth of the city's population already on some form of public assistance, the prospect of adding hundreds of former government employees to the welfare rolls holds little appeal.

That could well be the best argument for something like the "radical" approach D'Adamo is proposing. In desperate times, even drastic solutions can look like reasonable alternatives.

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