O'Malley Planning Layoffs, Furloughs, Local Aid Cuts

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Maryland state employees will be forced to take as many as 10 days of unpaid leave, and more than 200 will be laid off, as part of a new round of budget cuts that Gov. Martin O'Malley plans to announce Tuesday, aides said.

The roughly $470 million in midyear cuts, which a state panel is poised to approve Wednesday, will include reductions in state aid to local governments and additional cuts to state agencies. The latest round of reductions is part of an effort to close a $700 million shortfall in the state's $13 billion budget that emerged just weeks into the new fiscal year.

Under O'Malley's plan, state government would shut down nonessential services for five days -- around Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays -- between now and June. Most of the state's 80,000 employees would forgo pay for those days, resulting in a salary reduction of about 2 percent.

State employees would be forced to take as many as five additional furlough days, with higher-paid employees taking more unpaid leave than their lower-paid counterparts. Those making more than $100,000 a year would lose a total of 10 days of pay, with the number gradually reduced for those who make less.

Less information about the planned layoffs emerged Monday, but aides confirmed that the number would exceed 200, the largest single reduction since O'Malley (D) took office in 2007.

"These are not easy decisions for the governor," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. "He certainly understands the sacrifices that state employees are being asked to make, but the governor is making tough decisions to get Maryland through the national economic downturn."

The furlough plan, as described by administration officials, would save more than $60 million this year. That amount would grow if leaders of the judiciary and General Assembly also required their employees to take unpaid leave. O'Malley cannot order those employees to do so.

Unlike a furlough plan implemented last year, employees that provide round-the-clock services, including correctional officers and state troopers, will also be required to take unpaid leave, aides said. Those employees, however, will have no more than five furlough days.

O'Malley's announcement is coming just days after a federal judge's ruling that furloughs in Prince George's County are unconstitutional. State lawyers have expressed confidence that the ruling does not apply to state workers. But union representatives have resisted O'Malley's plans during weeks of negotiations with administration officials, citing the potential effect on state services.

Patrick Moran, director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Maryland, said his union was "disappointed by the governor's decision to balance the budget on the backs of state workers and residents."

"Even in these tough times, it is essential that we remember our priorities in Maryland and that the people of this state come first," said Moran, whose union represents the largest number of state workers.

Aides said O'Malley can implement the furloughs over the objection of union leaders, who were provided a finalized plan Monday afternoon. Last year, employees were required to take two to five days of unpaid leave to help balance the budget.

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