State aims to cut 351 jobs

Md. government works to reach limit set by Assembly for fiscal 2005

Many vacancies to be eliminated

`Executive-type positions' must constitute half of work force reductions

May 29, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The Maryland state work force is about to shrink, with layoffs possible as government managers identify 351 position cuts by next week.

Officials say they hope to avoid employee terminations to meet a labor limit set by the General Assembly in the fiscal 2005 budget adopted last month. Many of the reductions are expected to come through the elimination of vacant positions.

But layoffs are possible in at least one agency, sources say. The state Department of Human Resources, which provides child welfare services and other functions, stands to lose 60 positions, including up to 30 that are filled, those familiar with agency operations say.

State government managers have been poring over personnel lists for days to meet a June 15 deadline to deliver work force reductions to the Board of Public Works, the three-member panel that oversees most state spending.

"The legislature mandated that we reduce the state's work force by over 350 positions, and half of those have to be through executive-type positions," said state Budget Secretary James C. "Chip" DiPaula Jr. in an interview yesterday. "We just sent the directive out [to individual agencies], and we are waiting to get the responses back."

DiPaula would not release a breakdown of reductions by agency, but said the largest numbers would come from departments with the most employees: Health and Mental Hygiene, Human Resources, Public Safety and Correctional Services, and Transportation.

The cuts represent the latest effort to control state spending in the face of continuing projected budget deficits caused by anticipated growth in education and health care. The Assembly cut 139 full-time positions as it scaled back the governor's proposed spending plan, which takes effect July 1, and ordered the administration to do the rest.

Lawmakers set a government position limit of 52,834, excluding the higher education work force, which numbers 20,966. That makes a total of 73,800 state positions, down from 80,084 in the 2003 budget year, when Ehrlich took office.

In July, the governor trimmed $208 million from a $22 billion budget through the Board of Public Works, slashing the work force by 963 slots. Just 83 of those jobs were filled.

"It's probably like in the past," DiPaula said, describing next week's decisions. "We've had very few filled positions that have been terminated. I would expect that trend to continue."

The Assembly was right to require that half the position cuts come from executive positions, said Sue Esty, a lobbyist with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Liaisons scrutinized

"The line people have carried the burden of the budget cuts, both in the hiring freeze and the previous cuts," she said, pointing out that lawmakers scrutinized the number of government liaison positions as they examined the budget this year.

"Some departments spent more than you would expect in government relations," she said.

In the human resources agency, some of the cuts are expected to come in government liaison and public information positions. Department Secretary Christopher J. McCabe would not confirm the reductions yesterday, but DiPaula said they would not affect child welfare workers.

The department has been battered by a round of bad publicity over the recent deaths of month-old twins released from the hospital to a young mother with a history of abuse, and over an abandoned 3-year-old girl who is now at the center of a custody dispute.

"Child welfare workers have been exempted from the hiring freeze for the past year," DiPaula said. "They have over 400 vacancies in that department; they have 7,300 positions in that agency. A lot of those are managers, a lot of those are processors."

The Transportation Department must lose 88 of the 9,095 positions it has this year, said spokesman Jack Cahalan. Forty-four will be executive positions.

"We believe that a large majority of these positions can be handled through vacancies and attrition," Cahalan said. "That is the goal at the current time."

The 16 cuts in public safety and corrections will most likely come from unfilled positions, said spokeswoman Jacqueline Lampell. "We have several hundred vacancies, which would be enough to cover the cuts," she said.

Health department spokesman J.B. Hanson did not know his agency's target.

`Undetermined impact'

DiPaula, the budget secretary, said the Assembly should have specified where they wanted reductions made, rather than leaving it to the executive branch to meet the limit.

"This was a function of them backing into a number that they wanted to cut ... with undetermined impact," he said. "I just think it's responsible budgeting that when you make a cut, you determine where it comes from."

House Appropriations Chairman Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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