Negotiators twist a few budgetary arms LEGISLATURE '93

April 05, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

When the legislature's budget committees put together their version of the state budget, they make not only the billion-dollar decisions but also the minuscule ones. The purpose of these tiny tugs on the purse strings is to get the attention of individuals and departments.

Some of the targets of these budget darts would claim that the legislators are trying to micro-manage state government. The legislators would contend that they are just trying to make sure the citizens are getting their money's worth.

The most visible of these messages was the unusual attempt by the House to get involved in local decision-making by withholding $4.8 million from the Baltimore schools unless administrators complied with consultants' recommendations.

That one vanished after a fight between the House and Senate negotiators. Actually, many of these items never make it to the final draft of the budget, disappearing once they get the attention the legislators were after.

For instance, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee was bothered that two psychiatrists who were disciplined by their regulatory boards work at state hospitals. So it specifically took the money to pay their salaries out of the budget for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The two doctors are Philip Walls, cited for having improper sexual relations with a patient, and Bruce L. Regan, former head of Spring Grove state hospital, disciplined for improperly prescribing drugs.

The legislators sought essentially to fire them by deleting funds for their jobs, specifying their personnel identification numbers in cuts to the administration budget.

Going after specific PINs is one of the legislators' favorite undertakings when they are trying to get rid of people or programs -- or at least get the attention of their administrators.

Nelson Sabatini, the secretary of health and mental hygiene, told the budget conference committee that he had gotten Dr. Walls to resign, so he ended up losing only one PIN, meaning he still has the money to hire one replacement.

The budget proposals are full of such pinpoint management. Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, has had trouble communicating with the Department of Juvenile Services in her county, so she got her fellow members of the Budget and Taxation Committee to go along with the removal of a couple jobs, using the PIN-deletion technique. Even though those cuts were quietly restored in the conference committee, such actions often result in returned phone calls.

Just as the House got the city schools' attention with its proposed withholding of funds, the Senate made the university system's Board of Regents sit up and take notice by proposing a slash of $2 million from its $8.5 million request for administrative expenses. The entire board, already upset by a $400,000 cut in the House, threatened to resign over the $2 million. The conference committee split the difference, taking out $1.1 million. They said they weren't worried about regents resigning but were concerned about the high salaries at the university system's headquarters.

But the legislators don't just go after the big targets:

* They did not like the $11-per-square-foot lease that the Department of Licensing and Regulation had worked out for renting office space in Baltimore, so the budget specifies that the department may not spend any of its money to pay more than $9 per square foot for office rental.

* They cut $47,000 from the state Military Department's $2.4 million budget but told the department in their budget narrative that it may not use this reduction as an excuse to end its scholastic track meet.

* They turned a full-time clerk position in the Property Tax Assessment Appeals board into a part-time post, saving taxpayers $13,366 a year.

And, in another chapter of a battle with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, they eliminated the PIN for a $31,479 management associate general position in the Department of Agriculture and a $24,832 job in the Department of Economic and Employment Development.

That's because they contend those employees have been lent out to help run the "Maryland You Are Beautiful" promotion campaign.

The legislature has been trying to eliminate state spending on that operation for years, but the governor likes it so much he has borrowed people from other departments to keep it going.

Now, in this continuing game of budgetary cat and mouse, he gets to try another way to keep it going.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.