O'Malley Considers Furloughs, Elimination of Vacant Jobs

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2008

Although Maryland has no plans for widespread layoffs to ease its budget crunch, state workers might be required to take several days of unpaid leave in coming months, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said yesterday.

O'Malley told reporters that his office is looking at cost savings from furloughs and plans to talk soon with representatives of state workers who would be affected.

Employees would be required to take six days of unpaid leave by June under one scenario presented to O'Malley last week by his budget secretary. The move would save the state $48 million in this fiscal year, which started in July.

"The sooner we do it, the longer period of time over which we have to stretch out those furlough days," O'Malley said.

The furlough plan was among 100 options for savings totaling $400 million that were presented to O'Malley. Aides said he will propose next week at least $250 million of those cuts -- and perhaps significantly more than that -- to a state panel authorized to reduce the budget while the legislature is not in session.

O'Malley reiterated yesterday that furloughs will not be on next week's list but said he would not rule them out. Aides said O'Malley has the authority to order furloughs without approval from the three-member Board of Public Works.

Prince George's and Montgomery counties are pursuing furloughs as a cost-savings strategy during the economic downturn.

O'Malley is also weighing the elimination of 776 mostly vacant positions, including 283 correction officer jobs, as well as cuts to several dozen state programs, including education and public safety initiatives.

Revenue estimates in Maryland were recently revised downward by $432 million for the current fiscal year, and analysts project a shortfall of close to $1 billion in the $15 billion general fund for fiscal 2010.

"This is an ugly time, and these are difficult decisions," O'Malley said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he would prefer furloughs to layoffs, which he said would be more disruptive to families of state workers.

Patrick Moran, director of AFSCME Maryland, the labor union that represents the largest number of state workers, said he is eager to meet with O'Malley to discuss alternatives to furloughs.

"We don't think they're going to solve a long-term problem," he said. "As the frontline employees who provide essential services, we want to see what the other options are."

Moran's organization was one of several yesterday seeking to blunt the impact of possible budget cuts in coming months.

The Maryland Committee for Children, a nonprofit advocacy group, said in a statement that several cuts being contemplated by the governor would be "devastating to families struggling to cope with the fallout from current economic turmoil."

Among the cost savings under consideration is a freeze in enrollment in a program that provides child-care subsidies to lower-income parents. The state projects that the cut would result in 2,500 fewer children being accommodated this year.

Under the options being weighed by O'Malley, funds for public universities would be cut by $30 million and community colleges would be cut by $16 million. State aid to private colleges and universities would be reduced by about $8.4 million.

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