OCEAN CITY -- Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey told skeptical state workers yesterday that she will not only give Marylanders a tax cut if she becomes governor, but give state employees a pay raise as well.
Mrs. Sauerbrey tried to calm the nerves of about 500 members of the Maryland Classified Employees Association who fear her budget cutting and tax relief plans will somehow come out of their hides.
Not so, she said.
She outlined a budget plan for her first year in office that she said will cut personal income taxes by 6 percent but will also include a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for state employees -- all without layoffs.
"I'm not the Grinch who will steal state government," she said.
Her Democratic opponent, Parris N. Glendening, scoffed at the notion of painless tax cuts, predicting that Mrs. Sauerbrey's tax plan would simply shift the burden to local governments.
"She's using an ideological ax. It sounds good to say I'll cut taxes by 24 percent," Mr. Glendening said during a Baltimore campaign stop to push more modest business tax cuts. "But it will create chaos at the local level. It would destroy much of our educational programs, and it would raise property taxes substantially."
His criticism of Mrs. Sauerbrey's promises was a role reversal for the Prince George's county executive, who has been accused by Republicans of promising too much.
Mrs. Sauerbrey, a four-term state delegate from Baltimore County, has proposed phasing in a 24 percent cut in personal income taxes over four years.
She said yesterday that tax relief will improve the economy and said public sector jobs are only secure if there is a strong private economy.
She also insisted she can cut taxes while still allowing mandated entitlement programs, such as aid for public schools, to grow by 5.4 percent -- the amount she said has been recommended by the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services.
"I want to set the record straight," she said. "My budget cuts will not adversely affect Baltimore City and the counties."
Mrs. Sauerbrey also said she opposed giving unions collective bargaining rights -- an idea Mr. Glendening supports -- saying it will cause tensions between the executive and state workers.
To Mrs. Sauerbrey's apparent surprise, union members interrupted her remarks five times with polite applause. MCEA ,, President Teresa D. Whitmore and other members complimented Mrs. Sauerbrey for giving straight answers to questions about privatization of state jobs and collective bargaining. "I think she spoke to a lot of the basic fears state employees have," Ms. Whitmore said.
She said, however, she was hard-pressed to understand how Mrs. Sauerbrey could cut tax revenue and still have enough money to give employees a raise.
Richard Grove, a MCEA member who works at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, said state workers had been worried that Mrs. Sauerbrey's plan "meant that 24 percent of the work force would be fired."
"They were scared to death of her," he said after the speech. "Maybe she was able to relieve some of the anxieties."
Earlier in the day, a 9-year-old boy cut to the heart of the matter during Mrs. Sauerbrey's tour of the private Unseld School in West Baltimore.
"My mother is a state employee," said Aaron McCracken, "Do you plan to cut state employees?"
"Your mom does not have to worry about losing her job," Mrs. Sauerbrey told Aaron and the rest of his fifth-grade class. "I want to make very sure that you can stay in this school."
After her tour of the school, Mrs. Sauerbrey restated her longtime support for a voucher system that would give each student $2,000 in state assistance to attend private schools.
Joined by Lamar Alexander, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Education who is expected to be a candidate for president in 1996, Mrs. Sauerbrey also said she would work to reduce the central bureaucracy and give more control to individual schools, or even alternative "schools within schools."
Mr. Glendening strongly criticized the school-voucher idea, which has been previously rejected by the General Assembly.
"I think it would destroy the public schools," Mr. Glendening said, following a tour of a the Johns Hopkins University small-business "incubator" in East Baltimore. "Only the residue of society would end up in the school system."
Mr. Glendening used the setting to discuss his plans to cut a minor tax on business research equipment, which he said would help small high-tech firms get started.
He also repeated his call for tax incentives for businesses that create jobs in poorer areas or that hire the long-term unemployed.
Mr. Glendening was joined by Toni Ford, chief executive of a multimedia networking company that has flourished in part because of assistance through a Prince George's County loan program he launched.
Mr. Glendening, who won MCEA's endorsement in the Democratic primary race, was a no-show at the union's three-day conference, despite repeated calls from MCEA officials asking him to at least send a surrogate.
"We get lots of requests to have Parris come speak," said David Seldin, a Glendening spokesman. "We try and accept as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, you can't do everything."