Lawmakers stand with state workers

December 17, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Most of Washington County's state delegates said Wednesday they plan to give up five days of pay -- or about $850 -- in response to an announcement Tuesday by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley that instituted furloughs for state employees.

"Since the governor has decided to balance the budget on the backs of state employees, we felt it only appropriate to let our state workers know that we will stand with them during these difficult times," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington. "(O'Malley) has declared war on Maryland's middle class, and we want them to know we are standing with them."

Shank, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, and Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, announced their plans in a joint statement. When contacted separately, Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., an independent representing Frederick and Washington counties, said they also would give up five days of their salaries in support of the workers.


"I'm going to do what I think is the right and responsible thing to do, and that is to give up five days of salary," Munson said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he would be looking at all options and had not decided what he will do. Mooney said he needed to research the issue more fully, but he said he would consider either taking the pay cut or giving the same amount of money to a charitable organization.

Each member of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly is paid $43,500 annually. The five-day pay cut would result in a loss of about $850, if calculated with a five-day work week.

The participation by Washington County's representatives is voluntary. While they are state employees, the state's executive branch does not oversee legislators, and Maryland's constitution prohibits reductions in legislators' salaries mid-term.

O'Malley's decision Tuesday came after an announcement that the budget shortfall for the current fiscal year had doubled to about $415 million, and that next year's budget deficit grew to about $2 billion -- twice that of previous estimates.

The furloughs, which will range from two to five days, affect state employees differently based on how much money they make. The furloughs are expected to save an estimated $34 million in the current fiscal year.

While state employees will not work on the days they are not paid, lawmakers said they would not take those days off.

"As elected officials, it is critical that we stand alongside the members of the state's work force and participate in this furlough as a show of solidarity," Serafini said. "In the middle of the holiday season, these furloughs have come at the worst possible time for our work force. We want them to know they do not stand alone."

Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for O'Malley, said state employees making less than $40,000 will give up two work days. He said the furloughs would not affect paychecks over the holidays.

"We are experiencing an unprecedented national economic recession," Adamec said. "We're confident that the decision that has been made thus far will allow Maryland to come through it more quickly."

Myers said the furloughs will only add an additional burden to Maryland's middle class.

"These furloughs do not exist in a vacuum," he said. "The state employees are already paying for the largest tax increase in Maryland's history, rising energy bills and increasing food costs."

State employees took a similar hit in the early 1990s when a budget shortfall led to a furlough. At that time, Munson said, senators voted to give up a portion of their salaries.

Shank and Myers said many solutions to the state's budget crisis will be discussed when the legislative session begins in January.

"This being my seventh year in Annapolis, this is going to be my biggest challenge," Myers said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, did not return a phone call for comment Wednesday.

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