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Ehrlich proposes 160 new corrections positions statewide

March 16, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

Gov. Robert Ehrlich said Wednesday he plans to earmark $5.5 million in a supplemental budget proposal for 160 new correctional positions statewide. The proposal is to be released today, he said.

Supplemental budgets permit the governor to make corrections to his original budget proposal, now being debated in the General Assembly. They also are used to reallocate funds deleted by the General Assembly.

Although routinely approved, supplemental budgets may be attached to the budget only by the consent of the Legislature.

Ehrlich said Wednesday that his decision resulted from discussions that "have been ongoing for many months" between his office and Western Maryland legislators.

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Ehrlich's statements came the same day the full Senate voted to cut $15.5 million for retroactive pay increases for correctional officers from his initial budget.

"We've got some ongoing budget fights," the governor acknowledged, but he noted that at least some of the retroactive pay "is still in play" in the House of Delegates.

The House Appropriations Committee voted this week to recommend the pay increases be effective April 15; otherwise, correctional officers wouldn't see the pay hikes until July.

"We believe we're making some progress on the retroactive pay," Ehrlich said.

In the first two years of his administration, Ehrlich said he'd gotten cost-of-living adjustments approved for correctional officers - "remarkably, given the fiscal situation we inherited." Now that the economy is better, he said it was time to give them a raise.

Ehrlich said the state's hot economy and resulting competition from other job sources contributed to the state's difficulty filling current vacancies in the Division of Corrections.

House Minority Leader George Edwards, a Republican candidate this year for Washington County's westernmost Senate seat, said that since the raises were announced, 50 recruits had tested for jobs at the two prisons in Allegany County.

Most of the Washington County Delegation met with Ehrlich on Wednesday, as did Edwards and Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany.

"The people here are the people who've been active on this issue," Ehrlich said. "A lot of groups communicate concerns; not all of them have the credibility of this group."

All were Republicans except Kelly, who said Ehrlich had "demonstrated his commitment" to the DOC through "bricks and mortar," alluding to the new North Branch Correctional Institution in Allegany County.

Del. Rick Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, said he saw the governor's supplemental budget as "the fulfillment of the commitment we made" to correctional officers who brought their concerns about staffing to the delegation before the General Assembly convened this year.

"The governor has listened to the concerns of our correctional officers," Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank said.

Ehrlich's proposal is not a done deal. It still must be approved by both houses of the Legislature.

Edwards, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, was reluctant to predict how long those discussions might take, but said his committee likely would look at the supplemental budget by sometime next week.

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