Outgoing Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday proposed cutting nearly $175 million from the state budget by trimming funds from dozens of programs and eliminating more than 1,500 vacant state jobs.
But the cuts fall far short of wiping out an estimated $550 million shortfall in the current $21.6 billion budget and do little to reduce a shortfall of nearly $1.2 billion projected for next year's budget, according to legislative leaders and aides to Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Yesterday, Democratic lawmakers and Ehrlich aides alike accused Glendening (D) of breaking his vow to leave Maryland in the black when he steps down later this month.
"His cuts do not go deep enough to address the fiscal problem," said Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "We're going to have to make some tough decisions this governor was not willing to make. He almost punted, in a sense."
Glendening, who is nearing the end of eight years as governor, has promised since August to slash state spending as Maryland tax revenue plummeted. Yesterday, his chief of staff, Gene Lynch, unveiled the details of Glendening's budget-balancing plan in a meeting with State House reporters.
"All across the nation, states are dealing with the fallout of the national recession," Glendening said in a prepared statement. "These actions will leave the governor-elect with a balanced budget and significant cash reserves that will protect our AAA bond rating while maintaining our key funding priorities."
In addition to cutting vacant jobs, the plan includes proposals from agencies to save money by delaying maintenance on buildings, driving state cars a little longer or trimming salaries.
Much of the plan to wipe out the budget gap, though, relies on politically unpopular moves that have already been rejected by state leaders, who must sign off on key parts of the plan.
One such item: A proposal to gain $45 million by withholding an extra $1 a week from most Marylanders' paychecks, money that taxpayers would eventually get back through larger tax refunds.
Another: A proposal to take nearly $200 million from the state's chief reserve fund, an idea that Ehrlich and legislative leaders have dismissed out of hand. The state must cut spending further before it begins to spend its savings, they say, adding that reducing reserves could jeopardize Maryland's financial health.
"We believe the rainy day fund can and should be left untouched" both this year and next, said Ehrlich spokesman Paul E. Schurick, who said Glendening's proposal would "leave us with a terrible fiscal situation in Maryland."
"There appear to be legitimate cuts to state government, cuts we need to balance this year and next year's budgets," Schurick said of the proposal. "But we have a long, long way to go."
Lynch said Glendening's proposal would avoid layoffs and other drastic measures being employed in 46 other states that are being forced to slash spending in reaction to similar declines in tax collections caused chiefly by a national recession. In Virginia, for example, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has cut more than $4 billion from the state's two-year $50 billion budget, in part by laying off more than 1,800 state workers.
Glendening's plan relies on more than $100 million in one-time accounting maneuvers that would drain state accounts of what Lynch described as unused, excess cash. Glendening would not cut state aid to local government or to public schools. And he would protect priority programs in health care, public safety and the environment, he said.
Many of the cuts came from a continuing a hiring freeze that the state put into effect in October. The Maryland's university system, for example, anticipates saving $16.8 million by leaving full-time positions vacant or filling them with part-time workers.
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said it expects to save $1.75 million by recruiting retired corrections officers for part-time work; it also plans to save $681,000 by reducing staffing on the midnight shift.
In addition to reduced personnel costs, many departments are cutting budgets for maintaining buildings and replacing aging computers and vehicles. The state police, for example, said they could save $1.8 million by allowing vehicles to accumulate more mileage before being replaced.
More rarely, some departments said they would be forced to cut back on services. The Department of Education listed a cut of $2.65 million in its planning division that would dilute the agency's ability to monitor test scores.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to cut funding by $2.1 million to its Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, cutting medical assistance to teenagers and treatment to criminals.
State administration functions -- including the governor's office -- would take the hardest hit, reducing their collective budgets by nearly 6 percent. The governor's office alone would give up more than $600,000 -- a 7 percent cut -- attained largely through salary reductions.