New budget cut takes from the disadvantaged

October 01, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Because of inaccurate data provided by state budget officials, The Sun reported incorrectly yesterday that the Appalachian Environmental Lab would be closed. In fact, there is no plan to close the lab.

The Sun regrets the errors.

After warning for weeks that they would have no other choice, top state officials slashed another $200 million from Maryland's budget yesterday in a move that will hit the poor, sick and disabled particularly hard. More than 30,000 people will be cut from the Medicaid rolls. Welfare grants to mothers and children will go back to 1988 levels.

And disabled adults will see their monthly checks pared by 25 percent, to just $150 a month.

The cuts -- which will affect virtually every part of state government -- also mean that another 481 state workers will lose their jobs.


Most will be laid off a month from today, the same day most of the abolished programs will be terminated.

The Board of Public Works, chaired by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, reluctantly but unanimously approved the reductions at a meeting in Annapolis yesterday morning.

Part of $450 million plan

The reductions are part of a broader, $450 million deficit reduction plan proposed by Mr. Schaefer last month.

The board's task yesterday was made all the harder after its members were confronted by some of the very people whose services they were about to eliminate.

"This is not something you want to do, but must do," said Governor Schaefer, whose eyes filled with tears as he listened to wrenching testimony from Marylanders who use wheelchairs and whose futures hung in the balance.

"All you have to do is see the people who testified, and your heart just breaks," Mr. Schaefer said.

As a small concession to them, the plan was altered at the request of state Treasurer Lucille Maurer to save several million dollars for an attendant care program that was to have been eliminated completely.

The money -- which may be taken from drug and alcohol treatment programs that many believe are just as important -- will be used on an emergency basis to assist paraplegics, quadriplegics and other disabled adults who depend on the aides for help in getting dressed, preparing meals and getting out of bed in the morning.

Without such care, they argued with touching simplicity, many would be forced to give up their hard-earned independence and move into much more expensive hospitals or nursing homes.

Among those who testified yesterday was Lynda Vane of Towson, mother of 19-year-old Dan Keplinger, who despite having severe cerebral palsy has managed for the past year to live in his own apartment with the help of a state-subsidized attendant.

Mrs. Vane, who works a night shift and whose husband has been ill with diabetes, said she could not properly care for her son herself.

'Cruel fate' cited

"It is reprehensible to think these people should suffer such a cruel fate," said Frank Pinter, executive director of the Maryland Center for Independent Living.

"The savings to the state is minimal and very short-lived.... Without care, they will die. It is as simple as that."

The cuts approved yesterday -- the eighth reduction in state spending in a little more than two years -- will mean a further retrenchment in all agencies of state government, highlighted by the elimination of 1,400 state jobs, 481 of which are currently filled.

Egg inspectors, civil rights investigators, lawyers who watch for securities fraud, office secretaries, and soil conservation planners are among the unlucky employees who will be put out of work.

The board's action takes care of less than half of the state's current deficit problem.

The rest depends on General Assembly approval of:

* $150 million in cuts to programs that send aid directly to Baltimore and the 23 counties for education, police or other purposes;

* $40.6 million in transfers to the general treasury of funds previously earmarked for transportation purposes or for use as loans to stimulate low income housing construction, economic development or other purposes;

* $4.4 million in fees for previously free state services for persons with severe disabilities; fees for private career schools, for pesticide registration, and other activities, as well as another $4.4 million in changes recommended by the governor's task force on government efficiency.

Quick Draw under attack

It also depends on a new keno-style lottery game, to be called Quick Draw, which the state estimates will raise $50 million in the final six months of the current budget year.

The game, however, is already under attack from the horse racing industry, which sees it as a challenge to off-track betting, and from bar and restaurant owners, who want a bigger share of the action.

Although General Assembly leaders have told Mr. Schaefer they support his plan to trim local governments by $150 million, the local governments are complaining they are being asked to give up too much, saying a fairer figure would be closer to $94 million.

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