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O'Malley proposes 'painful' cuts

January 21, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Layoffs of 700 state workers, spending cuts statewide and salary freezes for state employees are included in Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget that was released Wednesday.

O'Malley described the budget as "a painful array of cuts, spending reductions and level-funding of worthy programs."

It was unknown which state departments would be affected by the layoffs.

The measures were taken to close the gap on an estimated $2 billion budget shortfall in the state's general fund. The total proposed general fund budget in fiscal year 2010 is $14.4 billion -- about $200 million less than what O'Malley presented last year.

While programs and jobs could be cut statewide, education, higher education and libraries in Washington County saw modest increases.

"Those ended up with 3.1 percent more than in 2009," said Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., who is unaffiliated and represents parts of Frederick and Washington counties. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

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Weldon said Maryland's General Assembly has not yet begun its budget cuts, so those gains could be lost.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, also said it's too soon to tell whether proposed budget reductions for correctional facilities south of Hagerstown, and proposed 12-hour shifts for correctional officers would remain after the budget is approved.

The move to a four-day work week with 12-hour shifts for correctional officers would reduce overtime costs, according to a budget document.

O'Malley described his proposed budget as "very lean." It includes the statewide elimination of $310 million in local aid and stagnant funding for programs that in the past might have been eligible for increases.

O'Malley's budget included the elimination of 1,000 vacant state jobs in addition to 700 layoffs for state employees.

Weldon said it's likely the layoffs will most affect agencies like health and transportation that have the most employees.

"I certainly hope we're not talking about public safety," he said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said he also opposes cuts to public safety, but said that some state jobs should be considered for cuts.

"It's typical in private business, when we have less work to do, we have layoffs," Myers said. "It's not fair to think that in state government that there can't be some layoffs."

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said last year's special session included $1.3 billion in new spending, and officials should look there first when making cuts rather than eliminating workers.

He called the budget a "good starting point," but said he has concerns about many parts, including O'Malley's reliance on $350 million in federal money.

O'Malley said his proposed $14.4 billion general fund budget includes about $350 million in federal stimulus money. President Barack Obama has said he plans to include states in an economic rescue package, but it is unknown how much money Maryland might receive.

O'Malley said during a press conference Wednesday his assumption that Maryland will receive $350 million is a conservative estimate, but said there are no guarantees.

"There is no guarantee it will be $350 (million)," he said. "It might not be $50 (million). It might be nothing."

If the money received is less than expected, O'Malley said he would return to the General Assembly with a revised proposal.

O'Malley also presented his fiscal year 2010 capital budget Wednesday, which includes about $29 million for nearly 20 Washington County projects, including schools, parks and expansion of the Washington County Free Library.

"We need to do everything we can to preserve that money," Donoghue said.

Mary Baykan, director of Washington County Free Library, said in a phone interview that the $800,000 slated for the library expansion is less than the $3 million to $5 million requested to be spread over several years.

"I'm so glad we're in the budget," Baykan said. "That's a thrill. Especially in these hard economic times. It's almost a miracle."

She said officials hope to begin construction in 2010.

Local projects in capital budget



The following local projects are included in Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's 2010 capital budget:

o New Maryland State Police barrack and garage in Hagerstown -- $15 million

o Antietam Academy -- $4 million

o West End Reservoir Tank Phase II -- $4 million

o Rockland Woods Elementary School -- $1.3 million

o Salem Avenue Collection System Rehabilitation Project -- $1 million

o Hancock Middle-Senior High -- $880,000

o Washington County Free Library expansion -- $800,000

o Way Station Inc. -- $800,000

o Maryland Correctional Institution, WWTP Improvements -- $438,000

o Pangborn Elementary School -- $162,000

o Aging Schools Program -- $134,904

o Program Open Space grants -- $130,856

o Taylor Park -- $82,000

o River Bottom Park replacement ramp and pier -- $50,000

o Widmeyer Park -- $43,000

o Funkhouser Park -- $35,000

o Hager Park -- $35,000

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