Lawmakers hope layoffs won't hit here

January 14, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Wednesday, on the first day of the General Assembly's 2009 session, that he will ask lawmakers to approve layoffs of state employees.

Officials said 500 to 1,000 layoffs could be announced in the budget O'Malley presents to the legislature next week.

"When you're in a budget environment as bleak as this, everything is on the table," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

The state is facing a nearly $2 billion budget shortfall.

No details were released about where the layoffs might come from or whether the cuts would be made to vacant or filled positions.

Furloughs for state employees were announced late last year in an effort to cut $34 million from the current fiscal year's budget deficit of $415 million. Local representatives volunteered to give up some of their salaries to stand by state workers who were forced into taking several days of unpaid leave.


Washington County representatives said they hope the possible layoffs announced Wednesday do not affect local workers. Shank said he believes layoffs might not be included in the budget, and that O'Malley could be raising the issue to test the reaction to such an announcement.

"I hope they're not needed," Shank said. "I hope it's not set in stone."

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said layoffs could mean cutting contractual or vacant positions before eliminating full-time state employees.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said officials should first look to vacant positions, and said it would be unlikely that O'Malley would suggest cutting prison or police jobs. About 1,700 state employees work at the prison complex south of Hagerstown.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said there is "no way" O'Malley can cut jobs related to public safety.

Myers said he does not support layoffs of correctional officers, Maryland State Police troopers or others related to public safety.

"In fact, I think we still lack in protecting our people who are in the line of fire," Myers said.

Larry D. Kump, a former correctional case manager at Roxbury Correctional Institution and an active member of the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA), said he was not surprised by the announcement of layoffs.

When he first heard of the state employee furloughs, Kump said he predicted that pay increases would be frozen and layoffs would follow.

Kump said officials should look to consolidate efforts statewide and to cut unnecessary programs. Those workers could be given priority for openings in other state jobs, he said.

"And you can rest assured that (O'Malley's) layoffs are not going to hit the people at the top levels," Kump said. "It's going to hurt the people who do the work at the lower levels."

Munson said his hope is that any layoffs -- especially in Washington County -- will be minimal. He said losing any state workers will mean a reduction of services for Maryland residents.

O'Malley said Wednesday that the state's financial future could improve if it receives an infusion of stimulus money from the federal government.

"If they can find $700 billion to bail out the major Wall Street players, then there has to be some way to do the same thing for the average worker," Donoghue said.

Myers, chairman of the Washington County delegation in Annapolis, said money from the federal government for infastructure projects could free up enough funds to eliminate the need for layoffs.

"It's unfortunate we're talking about layoffs, because if Gov. O'Malley and the legislature had simply lived within their means and exhibited a modicum of fiscal responsibility over the past several years with the budget, we would be much better able to withstand the current fiscal crisis without having to resort to balancing the budget on the backs of state employees," Shank said.

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