State's budget ax forces choices on local agencies $60 million in cuts must be found now

July 17, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Teachers would receive less training on how to recognize students who may be abused or suicidal.

Local health departments would cut corners, perhaps by requiring fewer restaurant inspections in your area.

On any given day, your Maryland Public Television channel would go off the air sooner and resume broadcasting later.

School, public TV and health officials are among those trying to cope with the latest swing of the state budget ax, which has chopped more than $1 billion from the budget in the last two years.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed a plan this week to cut $20 million from state agencies and $40 million in aid to local governments in order to officially close out the budget year that ended June 30 in the black.

This round of cuts probably won't be the last. Legislative budget analysts say the deficit in the fiscal year that began July 1 could amount to an additional $170 million because tax revenues are likely to be below projections.

The proposed cuts include $12 million, or 18 percent, in non-mandated state aid to education, a portion of which would have gone to local school systems.

Officials in several agencies were unsure yesterday exactly how they would implement the cuts, which must be approved by the state Board of Public Works.

They must find the least harmful way to cut $1.4 million out of the $5.8 million in general state funds allocated for free and low-cost meals for poor schoolchildren.

They also must slice 25 percent, or $129,000, out of school programs to prevent child abuse, suicide and teen pregnancy.

Administration officials say they tried to make the cuts as painless as possible, but children's advocate Amy Blank is mystified by their choices.

"Cutting teen suicide prevention? Child abuse prevention? How do you make up for that?," demanded Ms. Blank, who lobbies for the Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth. "There is nothing out there for these kids."

"All these cuts eventually will come down to hurting somebody," said Frederick Puddester, deputy budget chief for Mr. Schaefer. "All of these cuts are doing serious harm to state personnel."

"It's the cumulative effect -- it's getting to the breaking point," he said.

Health officials in local offices throughout Maryland will be trying to determine which programs to reduce as a result of an $8.7 million, or 25 percent, cut in their combined state grants.

State Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said he hopes the local offices try to preserve their AIDS education and prevention programs while curtailing lesser priorities.

"They may have to cut back on restaurant inspections, things like that," Mr. Sabatini said.

The state prosecutor's office, which investigates corruption in government, will not be able to fill two vacant jobs. It is one of three offices singled out for a 10 percent budget cut, while most other agencies lost less than 1 percent of their funds.

"We're just being very careful in which cases we get involved in," said prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. "We've agreed with the NTC attorney general to do only those corruption cases no one else will do."

At Maryland Public Television, officials will be firing seven employees because of a 10 percent cut. The station will chop about four hours out of its daily programming, going off the air from midnight to 6 a.m., said Norm Silverstein, senior vice president for administration at MPT.

The layoffs come on the heels of the loss of 16 workers in a previous budget cut during the last year or so, Mr. Silverstein said.

The Commission on Human Relations, which enforces laws banning discrimination, will lose four employees because of its 10 percent cut. Officials targeted this agency for a reduction because its cases also can be heard by the federal equal opportunity agency, Mr. Puddester said.

At least there appears to be some good news for Maryland's poor. Despite a proposed cut of $5 million in the budget of the Department of Human Resources, officials believe they can absorb the loss without reducing money or services to welfare recipients.

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