Protest of budget cuts draws 20,000 to rally Teachers' group leads demonstration at State House.

January 09, 1992|By John W. Frece and Laura Lippman | John W. Frece and Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff Marina Sarris and C. Fraser Smith contributed to this article.

The two teachers from Anne Arundel County joined 20,000 other State House protesters calling for an end to state budget cuts. But they disagreed on how to do it.

"I'd pay 1 percent more sales tax," one said last night.

"No taxes," her co-worker argued. "Once you get taxes, they're never taken away."

The two views represent the dilemma facing lawmakers who returned to Annapolis for the 404th session of the Maryland General Assembly yesterday.

Pressed by some constituents who want more services and taxes, and others who want neither, they'll be looking for guidancefrom Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was to deliver his State of the State message to a joint session today.

Thousands of teachers, union workers and public employees marched on the State House last night, many of them begging to have their taxes raised.

Others said they joined the huge protest just to persuade the state to stop cutting the programs on which they depend.

Hard-hat union workers, for example, chanted, "Keep prevailing wage," referring to a state law that helps them earn higher salaries on government projects.

Rally organizers got the 20,000 marchers for which they'd hoped, according to Maryland State Police. The placard-carrying, chanting crowd stretched from the State House steps down Bladen Street and past the House and Senate office buildings.

"Our kids cannot tolerate these cuts. America's schools cannot tolerate it. Our society cannot tolerate it," said Casey L. Coleman, a special education teacher at Cedar Lane Elementary School in Columbia. "We refuse to take it lying down."

During the 90-day session, lawmakers must decide how to FTC eliminate a projected $1.2 billion deficit to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget. Their only choices are deeper cuts in state spending, higher taxes or a combination of the two.

The Schaefer administration is preparing a fiscal 1993 budget in which spending will already have been trimmed by about $500 million.

The governor will have to identify another $700 million in 'N potential cuts, or come up with a tax plan to raise money. Lawmakers will have to decide whether to accept Schaefer's plan or find some other way to deal with declining revenues in an economy battered by recession.

Schaefer has said he believes any cuts beyond the initial $500 million will leave many state agencies unable to provide even minimal services. As a result, he said, those agencies should probably be abolished.

But he also has said he will follow the constitutional mandate and cut spending to get the budget in balance if he has no alternative.

The governor's aides wouldn't say what Schaefer would propose today, but speculation was that he would propose his own solution to the deficit, including a comprehensive tax increase.

Leaders of organizations such as the Maryland State Teachers Association, one of the prime sponsors of last night's march, said Maryland's budget has already been cut enough.

And MSTA President Jane Stern said the organization's call for taxes was not a selfish, veiled attempt to assure its own members' pay raises.

"People have a rather distorted view," said Stern, one of the organizers of last night's rally. "This is a rally for stopping the cuts. [Teachers'] salaries don't come into this. They're just ravaging education again and again."

Michael Kennedy, a retired social studies teacher from Catonsville, and his wife, Phyllis, and daughter, Jennifer -- also teachers -- joined the march in an effort to keep a proposed $184.4 million increase in state aid for education from being cut.

"We're trying to let the people of Maryland -- and specifically the General Assembly -- know how tough a time we have teaching young people. It's a very difficult job these days," he said.

"I don't know what the answer is, but it's going to take an awful lot of money."

With 225 chartered buses for MSTA members alone, additional backing from labor groups, PTAs and at least 10 special-interest groups, the turnout had been expected to be large.

As a result, Annapolis police were forced to close Rowe Boulevard, the main thoroughfare to the State House. Workers in the Annapolis government complex who park at the nearby Navy football stadium were warned to move their cars by midafternoon or risk being trapped until the rally was over.

Ironically, after the short midday House and Senate sessions wereover, most state legislators left town or headed for their hotels and were not around to witness the session's first big demonstration.

The prospect of a small audience did not faze Stern. "If more than 10,000 come, then the General Assembly will have to pay attention," she before the march.

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