Assembly plans to forgo salary, expense increases to fight deficit

March 14, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- The General Assembly began setting the table yesterday for an unappetizing meal of tax increases by turning the budget knives on itself and the governor.

Convinced the public will gag on higher taxes unless the legislature has done its best to cut anything that could be viewed as extravagant, lawmakers made some gestures that carry more symbolic than monetary weight.

The House Appropriations Committee voted to cut the $500 salary increases that all 188 delegates and senators are scheduled to receive automatically next January 1.

Although the Constitution prohibits a sitting legislature from modifying its own salary, which is set every four years by an independent commission, the lawmakers said they have an opinion from the Attorney General's office supporting the move.

Then the members voted to cut a proposed $4-a-day increase in their own expense accounts for meals and lodging, leaving it at the current $94-a-day allotment for when they're on business in Annapolis. That move saved another $25,000.

Appropriations Chairman Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's, told his colleagues before the vote that it would be "disingenuous" of them to approve a budget that denies state employees a pay increase for the second consecutive year, and which has included unpaid furloughs and layoffs, and then accept pay and expense increases themselves.

Then, hoping to prove that the $6.2 million budget of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's executive staff is not sacrosanct either, an Appropriations subcommittee slashed a half-million dollars and reduced the authorized number of staff jobs from 109 to 89. That's just six slots more than were authorized for the governor's staff when Mr. Schaefer replaced Gov. Harry R. Hughes five years ago.

The governor's office had already proposed reducing the staff to 98, but had not counted on losing nine additional aides or the $500,000.

A stunned Buddy Roogow, the governor's director of operations, said afterward that he did not know who would lose their job as a result of such a cut, but said "I think a cut of that nature can create a hardship."

While the Appropriations Committee took its licks at the budget, the full Senate plowed through 363 committee amendments to its version of Mr. Schaefer's spending plan for Fiscal 1993, which begins July 1.

Virtually all of those amendments called for deeper cuts in spending, including one that would penalize local jurisdictions with the loss of state aid if they use state money to raise local government salaries.

Even with $433 million in spending reductions, the budget will not be balanced unless the Senate also goes along with $245 million in higher taxes, plus another $106 million from higher fees and fund transfers.

Only one committee amendment was overturned. That was a punitive proposal to decrease the salary of Motor Vehicle Administrator W. Marshall Rickert and four of his top aides because of a scandal in the agency involving the issuance of phony driver's licenses.

A bigger fight on the budget is expected when the Senate reconvenes Monday. Senators are expected to propose a long list of floor amendments designed either to restore money for programs cut by the committee, or to propose even deeper cuts to avoid taxes.

Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, said this year's reductions in state agency spending were nearly double the amount cut in a normal year.

In addition, the Senate is nearing a final vote on a measure to reduce state aid to Baltimore and the 23 counties by $253 million, which will likely be offset by companion legislation giving local jurisdictions broader taxing authority.

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