Maryland's House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin said today that he will ask Gov. Harry Hughes to consider redirecting up to $20 million in funds earmarked for social programs in the state's fiscal 1984 budget toward businesses, in order to create more jobs.
Cardin, who has said that jobs will be the number one issue of the 1983 General Assembly session, would not talk about specific programs that might be cut or frozen at current levels, but said he will ask Hughes to look into the areas of health, education and welfare to see if some of their "softer" programs could be deferred.
"I'm not saying I want to take the food out of the mouths of poor people or cut back on programs for senior citizens," Cardin said. "I am saying there are areas, higher education, for example, where some programs could be deferred for a year. I'm not asking these people to give up the money forever. But we have a major unemployment problem in the state and, for this year, we should look everywhere we can for ways to create jobs."
Cardin said that the diverted funds could be used for venture loans for small businesses, allowing existing firms to expand or new ones to open, and for job retraining for employes. A lack of funds causes a 12-month delay in approving applications for current venture loans, Cardin said.
"I don't want an across-the-board freeze or cutbacks," he said. "I would like each agency to be looked at individually, to see where there might be funds they could give up this year."
Hughes responded this afternoon by saying: "I don't mind pursuing that. I would have to know specifics, exactly where he wanted to cut and how the money would then be used. We've deferred programs in the past when we've had to and we could do it again, up to a certain point, as long as we knew we would not be taking food out of people's mouths. That is out of the question."
Under the state constitution, the governor draws up a budget and sends it to the legislature, which may cut or reallocate funds but cannot add to them. Hughes already has said he may increase property taxes by a penny or two and use an instant lottery to overcome a $61 million budget shortfall that is projected for fiscal 1984.
"If this were a normal growth year, taking money out of programs or transferring large amounts of money would not be that difficult," Cardin said. But because of the budget shortfall and federal cuts in social programs, he pointed out, "these agencies are already strapped, so that makes it very hard. Next year's growth projections are better, though."
"We'll find the $61 million somewhere. I'm optimistic about that and I think the governor is, too," Cardin added. "Once we've done that, I think we can begin looking around to see if we can chip away at places and come up with maybe $20 million . . . that we could direct towards jobs.
"If there's a choice between higher education funding or job growth, all other things being equal, I think in this one year jobs should take precedence. I think we should call in the groups that might be affected, like the Association of Catholic Charities, for example, and try to work with them. I think we can look at these things because Maryland has been sensitive in these areas in the past. If we can get people working, the needs in social areas will be lessened."
Cardin, who said he expects to meet soon with Hughes, would not rule out the possibility that the legislature might change the budget proposed by the governor.
"If our staff found some programs that appeared to be discretionary and thought the money could be redirected to help getting people working, we would do it," Cardin said.
He also said that he will ask the governor to look at the capital (construction) budget to see if some money could be redirected toward bonds that could help small businesses, as long as those businesses guaranteed that any programs set up with state money would be directed toward creating jobs.