The Bureaucracy Takes a Beating

April 09, 1992

When Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told a state legislator that adoption of a "doomsday" budget would mean 900 people losing their jobs in city government, the legislator responded: "Good."

Those working in the public sector these days must feel like Rodney Dangerfield: they can't get any respect. Folks who used to think "you can't beat City Hall" are now beating up on it -- and especially on those in the bureaucracy.

The public hasn't shown much empathy for the 400,000 Marylanders who work for government. When the Schaefer administration last year ordered state workers to extend their work week from 35 to 40 hours a week with no pay adjustment, the public replied "it's about time." As teachers "work to the rule" over furloughs and pay freezes, the public's response is "they're lucky to have a job." For those who got into public sector work because government was thought to be a secure employer, it's not the best of times: the state has already eliminated 5,500 jobs and more cuts seem likely.

We haven't reached the bottom yet. The state's pipeline for new school money began shrinking years ago. Now other funding to the local jurisdictions is drying up. Baltimore City and the counties will have to make up the revenue themselves but they're loathe to increase property taxes. Also, taxpayers have yet to cry "uncle" over service cuts.

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden was referring to his county, but could well have been speaking for the others when he said $70 million in cuts his administration has made this year in a $1 billion budget haven't really impacted the public. Should Mr. Hayden be unable to hire teachers for 4,000 new students expected in his county this fall, the public will notice, and see red, especially if class sizes at certain schools grow dramatically.

Many got into public work because it became so available in the past 20 years. Others with skills in professions ranging from planning to the law saw government as perhaps a purer, nobler calling than becoming a corporate "hired gun." But public employees are now subject to the same forces under which private-sector workers perform: Their fates are tied to the management acumen and budget forecasting of their bosses.

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