Maryland Acting Gov. Blair Lee III yesterday announced an immediate freeze on most state hiring in an effort to cut back government spending in the wake of California's resounding vote Tuesday to lower property taxes.
Lee called the California vote "perhaps a little irrational" and "a meat-ax approach," but added that "it was a valid expression of taxpayer rage and frustration, and it's something that I think state and local governments all across the country must need."
Lee told his weekly news conference in Annapolis that he has also ordered state agencies to cut their out-of-state travel expenses by a third. And he said, all funded jobs that have been vacant for more than a year will be abolished.
Lees actions came as state and local officials throughout the country were examining how California's Proposition 13 will affect them.
Citizen efforts to "send a message" to lawmakers may well force many other jurisdictions to trim budgets, but two key proponents of spending limits admitted yesterday that they will not be able to get many measures like California's on other state ballots this fall.
Lee, acknowleding that his program would not result in "earthshaking savings," said it would cut about $5 million from the state's $4.35 billion budget for the 1979 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
But he stressed that "every place I go, I hear complaints about the tax burden . . . Now the only effective way to control taxes in my book is through controlling expenditures . . . The only way you start saving is you start saving . . ."
Kevin Kirlin, legislative respresentative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes in the state, noted that Lee is running for governor, and called his program "political expediency." He said the job freeze would exacerbate the current "squeeze on people" in the state's health, law enforcement and court systems.
Lee said the 1979 budget has $8 million for new hires and added that he would not impose the freeze on hiring at new facilities such as hospitals and mental health institutions.
State salaries cost $700 million a year, 20 percent of the budget. The out-of-town travel savings will be $40,000 to $50,000. There are about 200 "phantom" jobs - those that are funded but unfilled for at least a year.
At the White House yesterday a spokesman said President Carter "feels the voting for Proposition 13 reflects a strong national dissatisfaction with taxes that unfairly burden middle-income taxpayers, and demonstrated their impatience with the steadily increased cost of government."
Spokesman Rex Granum said Carter shares those concerns, but steadfastly refused to say whether the president agrees with the vote. He said the Proposition 13 vote "is not a national phenomenon yet" and added that it is too early even for state officials to assess its impact.
Meanwhile, two leading proponents of antispending measures - Charles S. Crawford, director of the National Taxpayers League here, and Lewis K. Uhler, a California lawyer who heads the National Tax Limitation Committee - agreed that relatively few states will have ballot issues this fall calling for state constitutional amendments limiting taxes or spending.
The reason, they said, is that only about 15 states allow voters to initiate constitutional amendments, and in all but six the process of getting an initiative on the ballot is more difficult than in California.
A Washington Post check showed that citizen-initiated measures have the best chance of making the November ballots in Michigan, Colorado, Idaho and Oregon. They have good chances in Nebraska and Neveada, and a proposed amendment passed last weekend by the Arizona legila-
Maryland and Virginia do not have citizen initiatives, but the Maryland legislature voted a 10 percent rollback in property tax assessments this year.
Crowford said the taxpayers league counts organizations in 26 states "that are working on getting reductions or caps on spending and taxes either on ballots or through legislatures, but in my opinion many of them won't get very far."
"It's a slow, laborious process," Uhler said. "I've been working on a spending limit in California since 1972 and in other states since 1974."
In Massachusetts the process is particularly cumbersome, Crawford said. The legislature is scheduled to consider a spending cap amendment this month. If approved by a fourth of the legislators, it will come up again next year, and if approved once more, it will go to the voters in 1980.
Uhler said a petition effort is just starting in Utah and Washington and that similar drives for ballot or legislative action will start next year in Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Texas, South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Wyoming.