Schaefer's budget proposes 3% raise for state workers

January 07, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Buoyed by an improving economy, the governor said yesterday that his budget will contain a 3 percent pay raise for all state workers -- their first in four years -- and allow a temporary tax on the wealthy to expire.

But he declined to say whether he would seek a new cigarette tax, as he hinted at months ago, or higher fees for state services.

In a meeting with reporters in Annapolis, Gov. William Donald Schaefer talked about his budget and legislative package for the General Assembly session that begins next week, his eighth and final session as governor.

Maryland law prevents him from seeking a third term.

Unlike the first two years of this term, when he was faced with repeated budget deficits and huge cuts, Mr. Schaefer will have a little more money to spend. Still, it will be nowhere near the amount available in the booming 1980s.

The governor said he wants to increase most state spending by 5 percent, or $326 million, a percentage that could please top lawmakers if he similarly limits spending in other parts of the budget as well.

Lawmakers convene in Annapolis Wednesday for their annual 90-day session, and the governor formally addresses them the next day.

Although closed-mouthed about other taxes, the governor did say he would allow a surtax on more than 25,000 of Maryland's wealthiest residents to expire as planned Dec. 31.

Mr. Schaefer apparently considered asking lawmakers to continue that tax beyond this year. But he said Mark Wasserman, secretary of economic and employment development, convinced him that doing so would send the wrong message to businesses.

The General Assembly enacted the tax in 1992 in the throes of the budget crisis but promised it would end automatically after three years. The change increased the income tax on individuals who earn $100,000 or more, and couples who make $150,000 or more, from 5 percent to 6 percent.

The budget will include $72 million to give the state's 75,000 employees a 3 percent raise, their first cost-of-living increase since July 1990, as well as longevity increases, Mr. Schaefer said.

Top leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates also support pay raises for state workers and allowing the 6 percent tax bracket for wealthy Marylanders to expire.

But it's too early to predict whether the governor and legislature will be as agreeable on other aspects of the state budget to take effect July 1.

Mr. Schaefer said he would seek a 5 percent increase in the general fund portion of the budget, but he left open the possibility of further increases in other portions. The general fund makes up more than half of the state's total budget.

A panel of state lawmakers has recommended holding the overall budget increase to 5 percent, but members said yesterday they didn't know if Mr. Schaefer's total budget would fall within their self-imposed limit on spending.

"I think it would be premature for us to pass judgment on the governor's budget . . . until it's delivered to us," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a Prince George's County Democrat who is chairman of a budget subcommittee.

Laurence Levitan, chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said he hoped the governor would not introduce a budget that requires extensive cutting by lawmakers. "We'll have to take a look at it, but it sounds good," he said when informed of Mr. Schaefer's budget remarks yesterday.

Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Republican leader in the House and a candidate for governor, said a 5 percent increase is too high. The budget should not increase by more than 4.5 percent, the amount by which the state's economy is expected to grow a year, the Baltimore County resident said.

In other areas, Mr. Schaefer said he will again introduce a bill to outlaw semiautomatic "assault pistols" and probably magazines with more than 20 shells.

He introduced similar bans during the past three years, but they all met their death in the same Senate committee.

"I would think this is the year that possibly assault guns will be banned," Mr. Schaefer said.

Another of his proposals would create a regional school for disruptive youths, an effort to make regular public schools safer.

"It isn't going to help the crime problem. It will make the [other] schools safer," Mr. Schaefer said. The special school may open in September, although there probably is not enough time to provide dormitories for students, he said.

He also said he is looking at improving the ways police track

juvenile offenders, perhaps through fingerprinting the youths if necessary.

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