Big budget cuts sought Lawmakers want to find $100 million

February 27, 1993|By Tom Bowman and Michael Hill | Tom Bowman and Michael Hill,Staff Writers

Legislative leaders plan to cut at least $100 million out of the governor's budget proposal, fully a third of the $300 million rise in state spending proposed by the Schaefer administration.

According to House leaders, about $45 million of the cuts will come from planned increases in local aid and the rest from state agencies.

The $100 million figure reflects a consensus among House and Senate leaders that at least that much must be shaved from the governor's proposal, though details of just where to cut are still being worked out. Their rough agreement reflects a widespread feeling among lawmakers that the state must be more cautious after three years of budget shortfalls.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, confirmed that the total cuts in the budget that the House will send to the Senate are expected to be between $100 million and $125 million.

Senate leaders -- who want to kill keno, the state's new electronic lottery game -- said they would look for even larger cuts in the hopes of getting rid of the game.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, indicated that the first $100 million would be needed just to insure that the state has a surplus and replenishes its "rainy day fund," which helps secure its AAA bond rating.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's $12.7 billion spending proposal was up 4.5 percent from this year's budget -- an increase Mr. Schaefer said could be financed by a 2.5 percent growth in Maryland's economy, plus money from keno and revenues from increased fees. The legislature wants to bring in a budget balanced solely on the basis of the 2.5 percent economic growth.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Senate President Miller met with county executives from the most populous counties Thursday to brace them for the cuts.

"We heard that there is a lot of difference between the House and Senate" about how much to cut, said Roger B. Hayden, the Baltimore county executive. "But we also heard that both of them have the same feeling, that the locals have to take part of the hit."

Money for local schools will probably remain untouched, lawmakers said, with reductions more likely coming from local aid for police and libraries and grants to reduce the economic disparities among the jurisdictions.

Legislators contend the reductions to the localities will not be unduly harsh, considering that the governor's budget calls for $220 million more in local aid than this year. It will be a "decrease in the increase," said one lawmaker.

"When you look at the fact that over $200 million of the $300 million in the increase in the governor's budget is in local aid, then they are going to have to take a proportionate share of the cuts," Mr. Miller said.

Details of the budget will start coming together next week, when House Appropriations subcommittees begin voting on their respective budgets. Full committee action will begin the following week.

Among the first state expenditures expected to be cut is the $22 million allocated to restore so-called "step" raises for some state workers.

About $15 million is expected to come out of welfare and Medicaid allotments, primarily because an improving economy is keeping caseloads somewhat lower than projected.

Frederick W. Puddester, the administration's deputy budget secretary, said that he had seen many different proposals for reducing the budget.

"The cuts I look for that I don't like are the ones in our preventive programs because I think they save money down the line," Mr. Puddester said. "And any time you reduce one-time expenditures, like maintenance, you pay for it later."

But Mr. Puddester agreed that, if cuts are made, the local governments should be able to absorb much of them.

"Most of our cuts to local governments since we started cutting in the 1991 budget have been reductions in planned increases," he said. "If you look at the figures, the aid to the locals has actually gone up 10.1 percent since 1991, while state spending has gone down."

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