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Lawmakers suggest savings to counter projected deficit

December 10, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- During a pre-legislative forum Thursday morning, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said the State of Maryland could save $240 million by cutting 4,000 state employees.

Myers, who said laying off people isn't easy, also questioned the need for a cost-of-living increase for state employees.

"No one else is getting a raise this year," he said.

Myers' remarks came as members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly addressed about 90 people at an event hosted by Susquehanna Bank and the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce at Leiters' Downtown on South Potomac Street.

Local legislators suggested items they think can be cut from the state's upcoming budget in light of an estimated $1.5 billion budget shortfall. The 2010 legislative session begins Jan. 13 in Annapolis.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Republicans are compiling a proposed list of cuts to present to Gov. Martin O'Malley. The caucus is not yet ready to release the entire list publicly, Shank said.

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Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, questioned the pension system, saying pensions are "very administratively expensive" and employees want portability in retirement savings plans. While those who have pension plans should be protected, the state should move to a dollar-per-dollar match plan, up to perhaps 5 percent, Serafini said.

State employees also have what Serafini referred to as "Cadillac" health care plans, which he said could be made more efficient.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, had a specific list of cuts he would make, including eliminating, for a period, stem cell research and suspending the historic preservation tax credit. That tax credit costs a lot of money, although he knows it has been beneficial to Hagerstown, Munson said.

In an audience that included members of the Hagerstown City Council and Washington County Commissioners, someone asked how much budget-balancing would take place on the backs of county budgets.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, reminded people that all the legislators can do is cut the governor's budget.

"Hopefully, we don't pass too much on to local government because they can't really go anywhere else," he said.

With an economy suffering nationwide, it doesn't matter that people say other states are in worse shape than Maryland, Edwards said.

"We're still broke," he said.

The legislators discussed unemployment and how it resulted in less revenue for the state and higher costs in unemployment insurance for employers.

Serafini stressed that government and health care industries are growing.

The question is, "How can we support and be part of that?" he asked.

Chamber President Brien Poffenberger said those in the audience, most of whom were businesspeople, clearly "look to state government for some answers."

Myers, president and owner of a contracting firm, said Maryland has "taxed our businesses to death" and that it is fast becoming a state in which businesses no longer want to relocate.

Shank discussed the so-called millionaires' tax. Maryland has the fourth-highest income tax rate in the nation, which is a disincentive to entrepreneurs and inhibits economic recovery, Shank said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., Unaffiliated-Frederick/Washington, did not attend Thursday's function.




If You Go:



What: A pre-legislative forum open to the public

When: Saturday, 10 a.m.

Where: South Hagerstown High School auditorium

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