Maryland Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, who imposed a freeze on state hiring in the heat of the Democratic gubernatorial primary last June, has quietly modified the policy less than two weeks after losing the race Sept. 12.
Just a day after California voters approved the Proposition 13 tax initiative June 8. Lee announced a plan to halt new hiring in an effort to cut state spending. All new jobs, he said, would have to be approved by budget analysts.
Last week he approved a new policy allowing Maryland cabinet secretaries to fill some of the vacancies in their departments after negotiating with budget analysts and convincing them of the need for the positions.
The new policy articulated in letters to the department chiefs, was designed to cut out the flow of paperwork and bureaucratic red tape required under Lee's June directive, according to administration spokesmen.
Instead of requesting approval for each job in a series of applications sent to budget analysts, cabinet secretaries sat down with the anlaysts and projected the new positions they will need in coming months.
The impact on the job freeze will be minimal. Lee spokesmen said, because the analysts would routinely have approved most of the jobs, anyway. Now they can avoid the paperwork and devote themselves to other tasks.
"It doesn't materially change what we had before," said Budget Secretary Tom Schmidt. "The acting governor's lifting the paperwork that went along with the freeze, not the freeze itself."
Since Lee imposed the hiring freeze - he said at the time that "the only way to control taxes in my book is controlling expenditures" - budget officials have approved 90 percent of the jobs requested, or about 3,200 new positions.
Under the new policy, each cabinet secretary will be told how many department vacancies he can fill for the remaining eight months in this fiscal year. He will not be able to hire new employes above that level.
For example, the health department now has 1,100 vacanies. The new directive allows for 525 of these spots to be filled. The decision was made after health officials showed that new employes were needed to staff state hospitals, including 400 workers for two new mental health facilities.