Calling a salary increase well-deserved and overdue, Gov. Parris N. Glendening strongly defended yesterday his proposal to give state employees $100 million in pay raises as Maryland grapples with a $1.8 billion budget shortfall.
"They have not had a raise for the last three years," the governor said, adding that the state's hiring freeze means people are working harder to fill the gaps. "Most employees are doing even more work now that positions are not being filled."
Under such circumstances, Glendening said, it is only fair and just to offer 2 percent cost-of-living raises to state employees.
The proposal, which would include two unions that represent about 36,000 workers, has drawn angry reactions from some state lawmakers, who say it is unfeasible and irresponsible.
In an interview yesterday after his annual holiday open house at the governor's mansion, Glendening lashed back at his legislative critics.
The departing governor said corporate executives are receiving bonuses and legislators have given themselves a pay raise, and he believes that these people should also think about street cleaners, police officers, corrections officers, hospital employees and others "on the bottom" who do so much important work.
"It is interesting for some legislators to say this is wrong," he said. "They got their raises."
The General Assembly this year gave its members a 38 percent pay increase over the next four years, from $31,509 to $43,500. Under separate legislation, the governor's salary will rise from $120,000 to $150,000 during the next four years.
When asked if the raise for state workers is feasible given the budget situation, Glendening said it is "if we get away from this nonsense of cutting taxes all the time."
During the past four years, Glendening and the legislature have cut personal income taxes by 10 percent - an initiative he announced before his 1998 re-election campaign.
When he created his last budget, Glendening tried to delay the final year of the phased-in tax cut. The delay would have saved the state $177 million, but the legislature refused to renege on the promise.
In the same proposed budget, Glendening included a 2 percent wage increase for state employees. But the General Assembly changed it to a one-time bonus, saying a permanent pay raise was unaffordable. Glendening has since proposed not giving that bonus to highly paid workers as he seeks to balance this year's budget.
Glendening said the timing of the salary proposal for next year was set by state law, which was changed this year to require the governor to complete negotiations with state workers by Jan. 1. The change was sought by lawmakers who wanted to know how much money was being offered before they dealt with the budget.
Glendening is expected to include the $100 million increase as part of a budget framework for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will almost certainly revise that budget to reflect his priorities.
Nevertheless, Ehrlich said over the weekend that revoking the pay raise puts him in an awkward position. "The numbers are so daunting. My first instruction is to [balance the budget] in a way that means no misery, which is no layoffs of warm bodies. This would complicate that goal."
Although other states have laid off workers recently, Maryland has not. It has instead balanced its budget since 2000 by not giving raises or hiring to fill job openings.
Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said none of Glendening's statements yesterday changed his view that the proposed increase was unwise.
Although it would be "excellent for us to be able to reward our state employees that do a good job," he said, a raise right now would probably result in layoffs.
"So his negotiation is going to result in thousands of state employees getting laid off if the new governor is going to implement his recommendation," Rawlings said. "I think he's undermining the credibility that he had initially, when he met with Governor-elect Ehrlich and both parties thought that they had an understanding that he was going to submit a reasonable budget."
State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, said that Glendening had not mentioned the proposal to him and that he learned about it from news media reports.
But, he said, it comes as no shock that Glendening is a friend to unions, which played a large part in helping elect him governor for two terms.
"Prior to this administration, collective bargaining was nonexistent. It was only at his insistence that it became a reality," Miller said. "He developed close ties with the national head of [the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees].
"Every governor wants to look good in his last year," Miller said. "Everyone wants to leave a legacy."