Court advances hearing on budget cuts MARYLAND

November 18, 1992|By Laura Lippman and Marina Sarris | Laura Lippman and Marina Sarris,Staff Writers

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge agreed yesterday to move up a hearing on the constitutionality of the state's budget cuts, at the state's request.

The case will be heard Nov. 23 instead of Dec. 2, which reduces the state's losses -- but only if it wins the case. If the state loses, millions of dollars in budget cuts would be challenged.

Maryland faces a $450 million shortfall in its current fiscal year, the reason for a special session of the General Assembly, which begins today. But Gov. William Donald Schaefer, under a 1939 statute, also has the power to cut programs to balance the budget, which he did by reducing welfare benefits and eliminating medical insurance for indigent single adults.

Lawyers for six Baltimore welfare clients then sued, claiming the 1939 statute was unconstitutional, because it violates the separation of powers.

On Monday, Chief Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman ordered the state to temporarily reinstate one program, General Public Assistance, pending the hearing's outcome. The state reduced checks by up to $50 on Nov. 1, affecting approximately 23,000 clients. Originally, the judge's order would have cost the state up to $2.4 million by putting benefits back to their previous levels in November and December.

Now, if the state prevails, the December checks will remain at the reduced levels. But the state wants to avoid making retroactive November payments and will appeal that part of the judge's order to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals Thursday.

During a news conference yesterday, Mr. Schaefer said he believed that the judge did not understand Maryland's financial predicament.

"We will try to do the best we can in reversing the judge's decision. I don't think he understood the consequences of the injunction," the governor said.

While the judge's order temporarily forces the state to spend an extra $1.2 million monthly on public assistance grants, the state voluntarily had delayed implementing the cut in medical insurance, in part because of the court case.

That delay has cost the state $3.1 million to date.

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