Budget deal agrees to cut state outlays $54 million reduction in next fiscal plan is first drop since '30s

Aid to schools up 5 percent

Payroll austerities, leaner agencies to provide savings

April 03, 1996|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's Maryland section about the state budget contained an incorrect figure supplied by the Maryland Department of Fiscal Services. The $14.6 billion budget for next year actually is about $8 million less than the current budget.

The Sun regrets the error.

For the first time since the Great Depression, Maryland is poised to spend less money on government than it did the year before.

Legislative leaders agreed yesterday on final terms of a $14.6 billion spending plan that is $54 million less than the state expects to spend this year. General Assembly officials said the budget contraction is a first since the 1930s.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The savings are achieved by providing no cost-of-living increases for state workers, freezing or reducing most agency budgets and trimming, partly through layoffs, at least 778 positions from the state's 70,000-employee payroll.

Nevertheless, the budget contains a hefty 5 percent increase for local schools, plus another $137 million for school construction, the most in two decades. It gives significantly more money to local governments and the state's institutions of higher learning.

"The budget forced us to choose our priorities," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "It reflects our commitment to public education despite the difficult times."

Those priorities included a football stadium in Camden Yards for the Baltimore Ravens, a project that is expected to cost the state $200 million. Money also is set aside for roads and infrastructure for a Washington Redskins stadium to be built by owner Jack Kent Cooke in Prince George's County.

Budget approval is a final hurdle for the two National Football League stadiums, easily the most divisive issue tackled by the Maryland General Assembly this year.

The budget assumes no decrease in the state's personal income tax. Despite assurances that a tax cut was a top priority, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders decided the state couldn't afford it.

"I had high expectations that something would happen this year after the promises last year," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican. "Instead, we put money into stadiums."

The spending plan increases aid for Baltimore schools by $12 million, chiefly to help underachieving schools. But to get that money, along with another $12 million, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will have to agree to terms of a city-state "partnership" to temporarily manage the troubled system -- an arrangement that could significantly increase school aid in future years.

The six-member House-Senate conference committee, which began deliberating Friday, settled scores of minor differences between the House and Senate over the budget that will go into effect July 1. The full House and Senate are expected to pass the budget today.

While approval by the two chambers is generally considered perfunctory, it will come two days past the deadline set in the state constitution. Committee members were in a stand-off since Saturday, $7 million apart on how much to spend on school construction.

House leaders wanted to spend more to reward five Montgomery County delegates who voted for the Camden Yards stadium, while senators wanted less as a means of punishing county senators for failing to support that project. They compromised on $4 million.

In another stadium-related move, committee members cut $400,000 from a special $1 million grant to Southern Maryland school systems -- a reprisal against two senators from the region who voted against the Baltimore project.

One of the two senators, Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, said he was relieved that his area came away with anything. "For the region I would have liked to see the whole amount, but I can certainly see the politics of the thing," Mr. Middleton said.

Balancing the budget also required a certain amount of fiscal legerdemain. Lawmakers had to borrow from the fund set up last year to offset federal budget cuts, delay some programs and anticipate savings from legislation that has not been approved by the General Assembly.

One prime example is an early retirement plan for senior state employees and those whose jobs are eliminated. The budget anticipates about $10 million in savings from such a program next year -- even though lawmakers haven't settled on how to do it.

In another last-minute move, legislators agreed to spend $7 million more to upgrade sewage treatment plants by taking the money from the state's tire recycling program. Their chief motivation -- if they hadn't taken the money, the $1 fee consumers pay when they buy a new tire might have been scrapped.

Mr. Glendening said yesterday he was pleased with how the budget was resolved. He said legislators were faced with "hard choices," but demonstrated a willingness to resolve differences with him amicably.

"We had an extraordinarily tight budget," Mr. Glendening said. "People wondered if we could do what we promised. We did it by shifting priorities."

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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