Senators pare the good, the bad, the imponderable

March 04, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland, You Are Beautiful, and you are still in next year's state budget.

Tom Burke, go buy yourself a nice dinner. Your job as the governor's coordinator for Chesapeake Bay events also escaped the Senate's budget-cutting ax yesterday.

But, if you work for the state and like your surroundings spotless, tough luck. Janitorial service in state buildings would be cut from five days a week to three if the recommendations of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee become law.

And buildings with leaky roofs or other maintenance problems may just have to wait. About $3 million, or half the money Gov. William Donald Schaefer hoped to spend on building maintenance, was chopped.

It was the third day of budget cutting by the Senate's budget committee. For three hours, 12 of the committee's 13 members (Sen. Albert R. Wynn, D-Prince George's, a candidate for Congress, was out campaigning) voted to slash this program or restore that one, decided to take a budget analyst's recommendation or ignore it, traded, bargained and dickered to trim state spending without ruining state services.

After the panel voted 7-5 against eliminating Mr. Schaefer's $125,000, feel-good-about-yourself "Maryland You Are Beautiful" program, the committee decided instead to halve the four-person paid staff in the state office that promotes volunteerism. They cut one $40,000 executive and a $20,000 clerk.

"One whale and one minnow," chortled Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, a mountain of a man whose intellect, impatience and orneriness drives much of what the Democratic-controlled Senate committee ultimately does.

In their first two days of work, the panel's two subcommittees trimmed about $72 million from state agencies, such as health, human resources and education.

Yesterday, they cut approximately $34 million more (exact totals were not available), working toward a goal of slashing $170 million from the governor's $12.6 billion spending plan for fiscal 1993.

Once they cut all they can, Senate leaders hope to fill the remaining gap between revenues and spending by raising taxes. That will come later this week. The budget and tax plan is to go to the full Senate next week and, after that, across the hall to the House of Delegates.

But yesterday, it was more cuts, large and small: car telephones, public information officer jobs, subscriptions to publications, travel allowances for out-of-state conferences, replacement vehicles. Sometimes the cuts stuck; sometimes they didn't.

Asked to trim a request for a replacement car for school construction chief Yale Stenzler, the committee balked. "I really have to feel for someone who has to drive a 1988 Plymouth with 93,000 miles on it," Senator Cade explained.

Similarly, Mr. Burke's job was on the line, recommended for extinction by a legislative analyst. But the committee, clearly looking to avoid unnecessary confrontations with the governor, left Mr. Burke's job alone and accepted a compromise offered by the administration to make up the money elsewhere.

Much of the day's debate sounded like some strange mix of a poker game and auction. Analysts recommend a cut, state agencies would offer counterproposals, and the senators -- seated in a horseshoe arrangement on leather swivel chairs -- served as judge and jury.

Cut four of the eight car telephones assigned to the governor's top staff, the analysts said. No, the administration replied, take two and leave us with six. The committee -- in this case -- sided with the administration.

Mr. Schaefer proposed spending $415,608 on a new five-member unit to oversee the state's huge investment in computer technology.

The analyst said this is the wrong year to spend so much on new hires. The governor's office argued that the unit might save the state twice as much as it costs simply by helping the state buy computers more wisely.

Looking for balance, the committee compromised again, reducing the unit from five new employees to three, while cutting the appropriation to $300,000.

They'll cut some more today.

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