TALK ABOUT an embarrassment of riches:
Here's Maryland enjoying a rare financial surplus while some state senators and the governor are running around threatening to brutalize this year's spending plans. If both sides do as they threaten, everybody loses. The solu- tion: negotiate or knock it off entirely. Frugality is fine, but this isn't the moment for showboat austerity.
It was only the other month that the legislators convened in greener-than-usual financial pastures. Many heaped praise on the spending intentions of Gov. Harry Hughes, who saw an opportunity to do some sensible things about some age-old social concerns in the state. Allowing for the normal differences that arise during the legislative oversight process, the budget review appeared to be proceeding well.
But now members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee suddenly have voted for a 2 percent, across-the-board cut in the budget for state employee salaries and benefits. The precise intentions of the politicians who lined up behind this maneuver are not clear. But one immediate result was a retaliatory move by Gov. Hughes: He says he will not send the legislature a supplemental budget, one that includes many pet projects of the legislators at home.
Presumably, the governor would keep the supplemental money in reserve as a surplus for next year's budget. In any event, members of the House of Delegates are not all that happy with the Senate committee's vote. Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin has described the vote as "irresponsible" and says the House will try to put the money back in the budget if the committee move is approved by the full Senate.
Some supporters of the cut argue that it wouldn't really hurt, that there are more than enough vacant positions now to absorb the proposed loss, and that managers would be free to put the cut into effect in their own way. But which jobs would be most likely to go? Opponents suggest that employees on the lower levels would suffer most. And what about those departments where more help, not less, might be needed -- as at the state prisons, where the staffs are slim?
Were there unusually grave revenue shortages, the legislators would have a better case for last- minute tinkering. But that is not the case, and this is not the hour. Senators should oppose the cut if it comes to a floor vote, and the House should stand its ground in any case.