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Chance of retroactive raises slim, Busch says

March 01, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - The budget battle is far from over, but House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Tuesday that Gov. Robert Ehrlich's proposal to grant retroactive pay increases to correctional officers and other public safety personnel could falter.

Two members of the House committee reviewing the budget insisted Tuesday afternoon that no decisions have been made.

While he said he didn't forsee other cuts to public safety and corrections, "I don't think there will be retroactive pay," Busch, D-Anne Arundel, told The Herald-Mail. "I think it sets a bad precedent."

If Ehrlich and his staff were concerned about correctional officers' salaries, he said, "why didn't they put it in the (fiscal 2006) budget?"

Ehrlich proposed the pay hikes, which would average more than 6 percent for most correctional officers, as part of a package of incentives announced in January. But last month, a budget analysis from the Department of Legislative Services recommended the $15.5 million earmarked for the pay, retroactive to Jan. 1, be deleted. Correctional officers could still get their salary increases in July, but not the retroactive salaries for the six months prior, if that recommendation is adopted.

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Del. Murray Levy, D-Charles, said he hadn't heard any direction from the House leadership to cut the retroactive pay, and Del. Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees public safety and corrections, said "as chairman of the subcommittee, I have not heard that. No decisions have been made."

"The fact that the people have been promised this has put it on another level," Levy said, noting that the subcommittee had sympathy for the correctional officers and the fact that they haven't had significant raises in years. "But you can make the same case for other departments," he said. "I think it's a big step."

Cadden said granting retroactive pay increases for a single classification of state employees would be "unprecedented."

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he was disappointed by Busch's comments.

"This should not be a partisan issue at all," he said. "The Democrats I'm talking to don't see it as partisan."

Ehrlich weighed in on the budget recommendations Tuesday during a visit to Baltimore.

"The cuts being considered by our lawmakers will weaken the state's ability to effectively protect the public," he said in a prepared statement. "I urge our lawmakers to give the citizens of Maryland what they deserve: confidence that their elected representatives will make the necessary investments to keep Maryland safe."

The fiscal 2007 budget proposal must be cut by $100 million, Levy said. Budget analysts recommended looking at a number of areas to cut, he said, in excess of the amount the legislature must trim.

Though the money for the retroactive raise would come from money set aside for deficiencies in the fiscal 2006 budget, Cadden said the governor should have consulted with legislators before announcing it.

"It usually goes before the General Assembly," she said.

Shank said Ehrlich was reacting to correctional officers' concerns.

"It's the governor who listened to the correctional officers talking about staffing problems," Shank said. "Ultimately, he's responsible, and he's trying to be responsive."

Shank said he didn't think Busch understood as much about the correctional officers' plight, and suggested the speaker visit the prisons and hear firsthand the correctional officers' concerns.

House Minority Leader George Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany, said the retroactive pay was important "to keep people we already have from leaving" their positions as correctional officers. "Especially in Washington County, where the economy's booming."

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