Hogan outlines details for across-the-board agency cuts

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is seeking to reduce spending at state agencies by $118 million this year, with cuts that could include layoffs at two University System of Maryland colleges in Baltimore, according to a copy of the plan obtained Saturday by The Baltimore Sun.

"The reality of our financial situation requires us to find ways to work together in order to curb long term spending and protect the interests of taxpayers," wrote Hogan's budget secretary, David R. Brinkley, in a letter to General Assembly leaders.

The Hogan administration and the General Assembly agreed this year to reduce spending across state agencies by 2 percent, or $121 million, to shrink an estimated $1.7 billion "structural deficit" — the gap between projected spending and revenues over the next four years.

The bulk of cuts come from moves to save on employee salaries by not filling vacant positions for as long as possible, abolishing positions or hiring people at lower salaries.

About $18.2 million in savings from the University System of Maryland could come through a proposed 40 layoffs — 25 at Coppin State University and 15 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, according to the plan. Another $7.2 million in cuts would be made without affecting personnel. Morgan State University, which is not part of the University System of Maryland, would save $1.2 million by abolishing 20 vacant positions and delaying library enhancements.

But layoffs in the higher education system do not appear to be finalized.

"Any potential layoffs have not been determined and they are a last resort, given that the USM must respect the need to maintain core and critical services that support the educational mission of students," said university system spokesman Mike Lurie in a statement Saturday.

Hogan administration officials said the university system chose how to reach the 2 percent reduction goal. State government will not lay off any employees, said Hogan spokesman Matt Clark.

Clark said the university proposal is "not at the direction of the administration."

"We do not control the University System of Maryland," he said.

The system is the 12th-largest in the nation, with 152,000 students attending 12 institutions — not including Morgan State and St. Mary's College. The state allocates $1.2 billion of the system's $5.1 billion budget. Former Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration cut funding early this year by $47 million, a reduction that was carried over under Hogan.

"The USM has been rigorous in finding budget solutions — including a rare and painful mid-year tuition increase at a number of USM institutions and the elimination of non-personnel costs to the best of our ability," Lurie wrote in his statement.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services would cut $24 million. The largest reduction, $5.6 million, reflects lower expenses due to the continuing decline in the inmate population, the letter states. About $1.9 million would come from savings in maintenance, overtime and other costs with the closure of the Baltimore City Detention Center.

The administration also included a $3.5 million reduction from eliminating the roll call procedure for correctional officers and $1 million from a plan to move from eight-hour to 10-hour shifts for correctional officers in January. Both would need to be negotiated with the union representing correctional officers.

Glenard S. Middleton Sr., president of Maryland Public Employees Local 44, which represents correctional officers at the city detention center, said both proposals would jeopardize the safety of jail workers.

Roll call — when the incoming shift is updated by the outgoing shift — is essential for officers to relay information, Middleton said.

"Roll call's a requirement to do your job," he said. "It would make it much less safe for correctional officers."

Lisa Speight, a union official who works as a sergeant at the Baltimore City Detention Center, said officers rely on roll call to learn about any problems to expect on their shift. "You have to know what you're walking into," she said.

Currently roll call, which occurs three times a day, accounts for 18 minutes of overtime tacked onto the start of each shift, Speight said.

Moving to a 10-hour shift would also put correctional officers at risk due to stress of the work, both officials said.

"It's unsafe to have someone working there 10 hours continuously," Middleton said. "We have said no each time when O'Malley brought it up."

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would cut $27.2 million — the biggest cut, $10.8 million, coming from a provider reimbursement program.

The Department of Human Resources would cut $6.8 million. About $3 million would be saved by abolishing 82 vacant positions. Another $1.3 million would come from reducing how much the state allocates for foster care payments due to an "anticipated decline in caseloads," the report states.

Several agencies were not able to absorb a 2 percent cut "without significantly impeding operations and/or services to the public," Brinkley's letter states. "In particular, we would direct your attention to the State Police and Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which have and continue to carry out essential work in Baltimore City and elsewhere following the unrest in April.

"The administration believes that further cuts to these agencies would be ill-advised at this time," he wrote.

Details of the planned cuts come in the same week the state reported it ended last fiscal year with a higher-than-expected budget surplus of about $295 million, largely from $214 million in higher revenues on income taxes. Still, Maryland faces a budget deficit in future years, Brinkley wrote.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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