Md. To Cut $454 Million

Under O'malley Plan, $211 Million For Roads, Colleges, Health And Police Would Be Slashed, 205 Would Lose Jobs

August 26, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz and Laura Smitherman | Julie Bykowicz and Laura Smitherman,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

The latest round of Maryland budget cuts would cost 205 state employees their jobs and slash more than $210 million in funding for road maintenance, health care, community colleges and police funding in Baltimore and the 23 counties.

Under the plan Gov. Martin O'Malley outlined Tuesday for $454 million in cuts, the state also would shut a minimum-security prison in Jessup by March and would close units at health facilities.

The layoffs would be twice as many as in all previous rounds of O'Malley administration budget-cutting.

As local governments and universities begin to absorb the cuts in state aid, they could decide to lay off workers or force them to take unpaid days off, officials said. Community colleges could increase tuition.

"These realities are awfully tough," said Michael Sanderson, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. "There's going to be a lot of county officials and budget officers sitting around tables trying to figure out what to do."

O'Malley, a Democrat, intends to seek approval for his spending reductions today from the Board of Public Works, which makes budget adjustments when the General Assembly is not in session. Since the budget year began last month, state officials have worked to avoid a deficit of more than $700 million and say they face a shortfall of more than $1 billion next year. Maryland's overall budget is $13 billion, and by law it must be balanced.

With a further $282 million in reductions approved weeks ago, the state budget should remain balanced unless the economy worsens and tax collections continue to fall, officials said.

The governor's proposal includes furloughs for most of the state's 70,000 employees, a shutdown of routine government operations on five days near holidays and other agency cutbacks. Details of the furlough plan emerged earlier in the week and drew criticism from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest public-sector union.

The state workers who are losing their jobs began receiving pink slips Tuesday. Officials said they would release details on affected departments and which facilities would be closed after employees have been notified.

"This is not something we do easily," O'Malley said. "This is not something we do lightly. And I have a tremendous amount of concern for those employees who are going to be affected. They're all moms and dads."

Patrick Moran, Maryland director of AFSCME, said the layoffs would affect not only employees but residents who rely on state services. "This takes away from our priorities in Maryland," he said.

State workers remaining in their jobs would see their salaries reduced by the equivalent of three to 10 days' pay through the government shutdown and furloughs, with those earning more taking a progressively larger hit.

The plan would not apply to workers in the legislative and judicial branches, but they might be encouraged to follow suit.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he would take a 10-day cut in pay and that he expects other lawmakers to do the same. A spokesman for the Maryland judiciary said it is studying the governor's plan.

The state is "down to bone and gristle," Busch said, and Maryland officials must begin turning to local governments, many of which have avoided furloughs and some of which have been able to reduce property tax rates.

O'Malley's proposed cuts to counties and Baltimore include $159.5 million in gas tax, title fee and other transportation revenue that funds local road projects, $20 million in health department funding, $21 million in police aid and $10.5 million to support community colleges. Public universities and private colleges would see a $36 million hit to their budgets.

The governor decided against scaling back aid to poorer jurisdictions such as Baltimore City and Prince George's County - a pot of $121 million known as disparity grants. Administration officials had said they would propose $470 million in cuts, but the reduction in local aid is about $40 million less than O'Malley had initially indicated.

Mayor Sheila Dixon said the impact of the $35 million cut on Baltimore's budget "will be painful but not as drastic" as she had expected. Nonetheless, Dixon said city employees probably would face layoffs and furloughs, though she did not provide details. She is examining a parking ticket amnesty period to raise money.

Sanderson said the proposed reduction in highway user funding would nearly wipe out state contributions for road projects in many counties. Baltimore is expected to retain a larger share of the money because, unlike other jurisdictions, it is responsible for maintaining all roads within its borders.

While the federal government has directed $610 million in stimulus money to Maryland transportation projects, only about $60 million has trickled down to local governments.

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