Labor balks at state plan for furlough

Union leader argues for cuts in private service contracts

November 26, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

With state and union officials set to talk as soon as next week about the possibility of public employee furloughs, labor leaders are arguing that officials should first look at cutting service contracts with non-state workers.

The furlough option - not used in Maryland since the 1992 fiscal crisis - is part of Gov. Martin O'Malley's goal to slash an additional $200 million from the state budget at a time of plummeting tax revenues and general economic malaise. The furlough plan was one of many left on the table following the last round of cuts but that are now up for reconsideration, including substantial cuts to state support of public education.

"We don't like furloughs," said Patrick Moran, Maryland director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "I want to see a comprehensive review of the private sector's interest in the state budget ... then I might have a different view."

Moran was responding to hints by O'Malley this week that he might require state workers to take unpaid days off during the current fiscal year, which ends in June. If approved by the Board of Public Works in December or January, O'Malley's new cuts would come on top of more than $300 million that the governor cut from the state's budget in October.

O'Malley administration officials said cuts to service contracts with private vendors have been part of the $2.2 billion in "reduced spending growth" achieved since O'Malley, a former Baltimore mayor elected with strong labor support, took office. "Unfortunately ... we are not left with any quick fixes or easy choices," said Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley spokesman. "All of this will be painful, but furloughs are a better alternative to layoffs, especially if the national economy continues to worsen."

Abbruzzese said that O'Malley has been in discussions with his budget secretary to identify more cuts. The cuts will be brought to the Board of Public Works next month or in January, the spokesman said.

Moran, whose union represents more than 30,000 state workers, said he has not received official word of furlough talks but that he expects the issue will be raised by the O'Malley administration during contract talks set for next week .

The governor contemplated a six-day furlough of state workers in October, which would have saved the state $48 million, but opted against the move. Among other cuts not taken in October but back on the table now are tens of millions in reductions to an education fund that directs extra money to school districts where the cost of education is higher.

John W. Rohrer, coordinator of fiscal policy analysis at the Department of Legislative Services, said further mid-year cuts of $200 million should keep Maryland's budget in the black for fiscal year 2009, as required by state law. That is, unless revenue estimates due out in December are particularly bad, Rohrer cautioned: "Most of the trends we've looked at are still going in the wrong direction."

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