Layoffs Loom for Md. State Employees
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's office said yesterday that hundreds of state employees could be laid off in coming months, as the General Assembly opened its annual legislative session with a mix of traditional ceremonies and sobering talk about the state's worst budget outlook in decades.
The layoffs could number 500 to 1,000 -- the most aggressive personnel reduction to date in response to the state's fiscal challenges -- said an aide to O'Malley (D), who spoke on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made.
As young grandchildren bounced in lawmakers' laps and dignitaries appeared in the House and Senate chambers, legislators spoke in opening-day speeches of "tough challenges," "difficult circumstances" and "troubling times," allusions to a projected $1.9 billion shortfall in next year's budget.
With no new money to spend, several lawmakers said they see the 90-day session as an opportunity to push policy proposals that would have little impact on the budget.
"There's an acceptance of the challenges in front of us, but at the same time, there are lots of good ideas out there," said Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery), who said his priorities will include an initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "I hope we're not going to allow the budget to be used as an all-purpose excuse to hold up change."
Hours before the General Assembly convened the 426th session at noon, O'Malley told reporters that he will propose layoffs in his $14 billion budget proposal due to lawmakers next week -- one of several decisions he said he would rather not make.
O'Malley said his proposal will include the reduction of about 700 positions through attrition, in addition to the roughly 1,500 vacant jobs that have been eliminated during his first two years in office.
"Attrition alone isn't going to get us to a point of a balanced budget," O'Malley said, declining to say how many layoffs he would recommend.
O'Malley said that the number of layoffs approved by the General Assembly could depend on how much help the state gets from Washington. The governor and legislators are waiting to see how much aid will be in a federal stimulus bill and what form it will take.
State employees might take several hits in the next budget. O'Malley said they probably won't receive the raises he would like and that they might be asked to pay more for health benefits.
Updated figures released yesterday show that state tax collections remained sluggish through last month, largely because of the economic downturn. The only exception was an unexpected uptick in corporate income tax receipts.
O'Malley and legislative leaders sought to put the state's challenges in perspective.