ANNAPOLIS, DEC. 28 -- Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer plans to cut local government aid to help balance this year's faltering state budget and to eliminate more than 3,000 state jobs next year to get through what his budget secretary described today as a "fiscal crisis."
Schaefer has proposed trimming $15.6 million from payments to already financially pressed counties, including $2.8 million for Montgomery and $2.2 million for Prince George's, as part of $242.6 million in cuts to forestall a deficit in the current budget. In November, Schaefer trimmed spending by $176 million.
With sales and income tax receipts plunging along with the Maryland economy, the governor is preparing next year to abolish 3,100 of the 60,000 state employee positions outside the University of Maryland system, according to members of the General Assembly who were briefed on Schaefer's budget plans for the year that begins in July. Officials said the positions to be eliminated will be vacant anyway.
"We have too many employees," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), a vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Schaefer abandoned plans to lay off 1,800 workers this month after legislators objected.
Today, Charles L. Benton, the secretary of budget and fiscal planning, outlined Schaefer's second round of cuts aimed at curbing state spending during the next six months. If approved next week by the Board of Public Works, the plan would temporarily close 12 state parks, eliminate a state meat and poultry inspection program and permanently close the Victor Cullen Center, a hospital for the mentally retarded in Frederick County.
"This is the most painful part," Benton said. "It's not easy to cut money already appropriated. We could not make it without impacting state services."
Benton said some employees will be laid off in the next few months, including 37 meat and poultry inspectors. He declined to say how many would lose their jobs, but said it could be more than 100.
In addition to cutting programs, Schaefer plans to dip into funds that had been earmarked for other purposes. He will ask the legislature for permission to use $72 million from a "rainy day" account and $40 million set aside for purchase of park land and agriculture land preservation.
Schaefer's proposal also calls for $22 million in money designated for highway construction to be used elsewhere in the budget. Given an existing deficit in the transportation fund that has halted construction temporarily, Benton said today that using the transportation money to balance the budget likely will increase pressure for a tax increase to support the roads program.
Del. Charles J. Ryan (D-Prince George's), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, praised Schaefer's deficit-reduction package generally, but said lawmakers may differ with the governor over the transportation plan and the cuts for local governments.
"They are trying to maintain the fiscal integrity of the state and the viability of the state while racheting back," Ryan said. "But I'm sure there are going to be some more discussions."
Lawmakers earlier had opposed reductions to state aid programs for local governments, noting that many counties also are facing deficits caused by the slowed economy. Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening already has ordered layoffs to avoid a deficit.
Compared with the governor's earlier plan, the proposal unveiled today hits less at counties such as Montgomery and Prince George's but harder at counties that have maintained low local tax rates. Talbot County on the Eastern Shore, for example, will lose 25 percent of the aid it receives for libraries, community colleges and police services.
However, the cuts still will hurt. Gene Lynch, chief aide to Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter, noted that the county has cut spending and introduced a hiring freeze to plug a $65 million gap in its current budget.
The state cut is "$2.8 million we don't have," Lynch said. "It increases our deficit, and in that regard it's something we can't afford."
"Parris Glendening has got a problem, Neal Potter's got a problem," Ryan added. "Now we're saying they'll have to do without bucks they were counting on."
Anne Arundel County would lose $1.3 million under the plan, while Howard would lose $585,000. Benton, however, said the local aid cuts represent only 0.6 percent of total state aid to the 23 counties and Baltimore. The plan would not cut aid to local schools.
Hoffman, one of the legislators briefed on the budget problems Thursday night in Baltimore, predicted that lawmakers would cooperate with Schaefer on most of his plans for the current year.
"There's nothing left in the cupboard, and now they're sweeping the floor," Hoffman said. "I think they've done a really good job for '91. They did the least damage to employees and there's not a mass layoff."
Schaefer also gave lawmakers a preview of the budget he will present officially to the General Assembly after it convenes Jan. 9.
To balance the fiscal 1992 budget, legislators said, Schaefer plans to save about $50 million by eliminating up to 3,100 state positions. Some of the job slots, however, could be filled in an emergency or if the economy turns around, lawmakers said.
The governor also plans to save $25 million by forgoing automatic step raises for state workers, a proposal sure to touch off controversy in the legislature, lawmakers said.
Schaefer left today for a vacation and could not be reached for comment. His press secretary, Paul E. Schurick, would not confirm that the governor planned to eliminate thousands of state jobs next year. But he added, "It has been considered and discussed."