Furlough, anyone?

Our view: Maryland legislators and judges need to do their part and sign up

December 11, 2008

When it comes to Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision to furlough state employees to help offset a budget deficit, not all workers on Maryland's public payroll will be compelled to participate. The governor has no control over the legislative or judicial branches of government under the state constitution, which means Maryland lawmakers and judges won't necessarily have to feel the pinch.

But the leaders of the General Assembly, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, have said they will voluntarily participate in the governor's unpaid furlough plan once it's been decided - and they will strongly encourage their fellow legislators to join them. That's the example to set because no public servant, whether he or she works on a road crew, in the governor's office or in the halls of justice, should be exempt. Fairness demands that everyone share the burden.

Noticeably silent on this matter has been Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who oversees the state's 285 judges; they are among the higher-paid public servants. But if the past is any predictor of behavior, the Maryland Court of Appeals passed a rule requiring all judges to give up five vacation days during the 1992 state budget crisis. At the time, Gov. William Donald Schaefer furloughed about 40,000 employees for one to five days, based on their pay, and saved the state $17 million.

Lawmakers who volunteer to participate will be required to write a check back to the state for the days they take off. And shame on those who don't.

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