Cuts Could Spare Lower-paid Md. Workers

August 12, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

A plan to furlough state employees could require those in lower income brackets to take fewer unpaid days, and workers may agree to some changes in health benefits, officials said yesterday.

Details of $470 million in budget cuts that Gov. Martin O'Malley plans to announce later this month emerged Tuesday during a hearing of legislative budget committees in Annapolis. Budget Secretary T. Eloise Foster said the administration is preparing a list of cuts that will target employee compensation and local aid to present to the Board of Public Works on Aug. 26.

Negotiations with labor representatives are continuing, and administration officials declined to provide many specifics. But Matthew Gallagher, O'Malley's deputy chief of staff, said the furlough plan would be similar to one implemented last year that tied an employee's income level to the number of unpaid days and that shielded those in emergency services.

Sue Esty, assistant director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Maryland, characterized the negotiations as "tough." She said some changes being considered to health insurance plans, such as the use of more generic prescription drugs, could benefit workers and save the state money.

Foster said that state agencies also have been asked to identify "low-priority programs" that could be eliminated and to develop agreements with other agencies that would allow them to share personnel, accounting, legislative or public information functions. She said that while widespread layoffs are not on the table, some employees could lose their jobs through streamlining.

The latest reductions come on top of $280 million in cuts for the current fiscal year that were approved by the board last month. Foster said she anticipates a shortfall of nearly $1.5 billion next year.

"This isn't getting any easier," she said.

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