The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, responding to several cries to trim the state bureaucracy and rejecting a flurry of warnings about hasty legislative decisions, voted 8 to 5 today to trim the state payroll by 2 percent, or more than 1,640 jobs.
The action followed a complaint by one state senator that at $7.5 billion, the Maryland state budget is so laden with fat it makes the committee's fiscal deliberations a "charade." Committee Chairman Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery) disagreed, but he did say there "absolutely" is waste in the government of nearly 83,000 employes.
"This [trim] is irresponsible, that's the only word for it," declared Sen. Decatur W. Trotter (D-Prince George's), who voted against the "management reduction" that proponents said could save the state more than $35 million in salaries and fringe benefits. There are currently 3,609 vacant government jobs, according to the state fiscal services department.
Committee members said they expect the 2 percent payroll cut to be whittled in upcoming negotiations with House leaders, one of whom derided the across-the-board reduction as "a poor substitute for real work."
But the debate over the payroll cut gave several senators opportunities to vent their frustrations with their jobs: Long hours spent nibbling at the budgets of government departments, often with only minuscule reductions to show for their effort.
Last year, the Senate budget committee approved a similar 2 percent "management cut," but it was later forced to abandon nearly all that reduction in conference committee.
After today's vote, Sen. Frank J. Komenda (D-Prince George's), chief sponsor of the payroll cut, suggested that the reduction awaits the same fate again this year.
"As a practical matter, 30 days hence I think you'll see one-half to three-quarters of a percent in selected cuts," Komenda said. Still, the proposed cut would dramatize Senate concerns, he added.
Sen. Raymond E. Beck (R-Carroll County) complained that such cuts would "hit the good managers as well as the bad. It paints them all with the same broad brush. It's a copout."
Tonight, Gov. Harry Hughes called the proposed payroll cut "terrible." He rejected the idea proposed by some senators that he "recycle" the $35 million in savings to fund capital construction projects.
In another budget development today, proponents of the largest single construction project in Hughes' $220 million capital budget -- a $38 million building for the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore -- agreed to scale back the proposal by $10 million.
The proposed facility has been in jeopardy almost since its introduction this session because Hughes left no room in his capital budget for the $10 million to $15 million in local construction projects so prized by legislators. Because it is the largest bond project in the capital budget and seemed to some legislators to fly in the face of this year's efforts to trim health care costs in Maryland, the facility was a logical target for lawmakers.
Shock Trauma Center officials today told the House Appropriations Committee they have decided to abandon two floors of the eight-floor, 138-bed hospital and renovate existing University Hospital space for the 66 intermediate care beds planned for the upper two floors. The changes reduce the cost in this year's capital budget to $28 million.