Schaefer wields $450 million ax Unpleasant cuts to balance budget

September 18, 1992|By John W. Frece and Marina Sarris | John W. Frece and Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Forced by a bad economy into choices he'd rather not make, Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday presented a $450 million plan for balancing the budget that turns back the clock on what Maryland government does for its citizens.

As expected, Mr. Schaefer proposed cutting aid to local governments by $150 million. And as expected, he proposed a new state lottery game to bring in extra revenue.

But the bulk of his announcement involved his plan for slashing another $240 million from state programs that already have been cut seven times in the past two years.

The cuts would affect nearly every part of state government, from egg inspections to the planting of trees along waterways.

The poor, who account for much of the state's spending, would be especially hit.

Mr. Schaefer's plan would cut 30,400 people from the Medicaid rolls, many of them single, disabled adults with little prospect of gaining employment.

Those who remained in the program would no longer be able to have the state pay for their vision or dental care, or for physical therapy. Maryland has paid those expenses since 1966.

Subsistence benefits paid welfare mothers and their families also would be rolled back, as would monthly checks to disabled single adults.

Payments for a family of three under the Aid for Families with Dependent Children program would be reduced to $359 a month, the level provided in Maryland in 1988.

Advocates for the poor say it's impossible to rent an apartment for that. The benefits, which support about 222,000 people, were to have risen to $401 Jan. 1.

"When you down-size government, you're directly affecting the lives of people," said an emotional Mr. Schaefer, who was obviously troubled by his own proposal.

"Every [cut] that affected people I felt personally. I live this stuff."

Mr. Schaefer had to come up with the plan because the state's budget for this fiscal year, which began less than three months ago, was based on overly optimistic projections about Maryland's economy and the amount of tax revenues it would generate.

And there is little sentiment in most corners for raising taxes.

Unlike the situation regarding his proposed cuts in local aid, which would require legislative approval, Mr. Schaefer could implement most of his plan for cutting state programs without the General Assembly.

He has said, however, that he would consider other suggestions for where the cuts should be made.

Mr. Schaefer's proposed cuts are far-reaching.

Egg inspections, which check for salmonella, would be cut in half. Aerial spraying for tree-eating gypsy moths and bothersome mosquitoes would be cut by more than one-third.

Schools in the University of Maryland System would lose $19 million. Students would be asked to help make up the difference by paying 3 to 7 percent more in tuition by the spring semester.

State aid to Maryland's private colleges and universities would be reduced by 12 percent.

The state's prisons, already desperately overcrowded, would be forced to keep vacant some 500 jobs. Although crime is rising, 140 state police jobs would not be filled, nor would another 100 positions in parole and probation and the state fire marshal's office.

Education and drug-treatment programs for prisoners would be cut back -- again. The result, according to prison officials, would be possible "security problems" as inmates were placed in closer quarters with less to do.

"Greenshores," a 5-year-old program to plant trees as buffers along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, would be scaled back from about $550,000 to $150,000 -- a reduction that Natural Resources officials say they believe will never be restored.

The governor's plan also would trim funds for the elderly, many of whom are on fixed incomes if not poor; it would reduce support for the Public Defenders' office, which represents poor people in trouble with the law; and it would trim back $7.5 million from a "disparity" grant designed to help Baltimore and the state's five poorest counties keep up with their peers.

Mr. Schaefer said the plan is likely to mean that more than 400 state employees will lose their jobs and another 880 vacant positions will be eliminated.

The governor's budget aides did not identify precisely which jobs would be eliminated or in which departments, saying that those figures are being compiled.

As unpopular as many of these reductions are likely to be, the governor said the cuts will be much worse if the legislature fails to go along with his plan to trim local aid by $150 million. Without that reduction, some 2,500 state employees would be fired, he said.

Legislative leaders have already told the governor there is general agreement that local governments must give up the $150 million. They figure that is about one-third of the deficit, and local aid accounts for about one-third of the money state government spends.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, indicated that most of the governor's plan is likely to be adopted.

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