Md. legislators hope to avert most layoffs Unpaid days off, trimming of projects among proposals


ANNAPOLIS--General Assembly leaders said last night that they believe they can squeeze enough money out of this year's state budget to avoid most, if not all, of the 1,800 layoffs proposed by the governor last week as part of a state deficit-reduction package.

"With some tough budget cuts and some imagination, I think we can avoid state employees' getting pink slips over the holidays," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, after he and 13 other Senate and House leaders received a 90-minute briefing from the legislature's chief budget adviser.

But a budget adviser to Gov. William Donald Schaefer said most of the new legislative recommendations are one-time-only reductions and do not address the state's serious, long-term budget problems.

"Most everything on this list does not help us in fiscal year 1992, where we are still sitting on a $204 million hole in a budget that is due to the legislature in a month," said Dennis H. Parkinson, deputy secretary of budget and fiscal planning.

The list, drawn up by William S. Ratchford II, director of the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services, proposed a broad array of additional programs and projects in state government that could be trimmed or eliminated as alternatives to putting people out of work.

The lawmakers decided to wait until the end of this week to make any firm decisions, but among the recommendations under consider

ation were:

* Compelling all state employees to take one day per month off without pay for six months, saving an estimated $36.8 million.

* Saving $14 million by killing the governor's plan to build a conference center and Jack Nicklaus signature golf course in Rocky Gap State Park to attract tourists and conventions to Western Maryland. The Schaefer administration would have taken far less out of the project, allowing it to survive.

* Deferring the expenditure of $12 million for a new Public Safety Training Center in Carroll County.

* Using $3 million that has been saved up to repair beach damage from storms at Ocean City.

* Transferring $3 million out of the governor's $10 million "Sunny Day Fund," a pool of money used to entice businesses to locate in Maryland or to keep Maryland businesses from leaving.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, warned against acting too fast. He noted that a legislature that usually takes all 90 days of a legislative session to trim a whole budget by approximately $100 million is now being asked to find about $242 million in reductions in a couple of weeks.

Despite the seriousness of the problem, no one at last night's leadership meeting suggested raising taxes.

After the briefing, Mr. Mitchell said, "I feel more comfortable that we can do it without layoffs. But everyone who works is going to have to pitch in and help his fellow worker."

He and other legislators seemed to favor the proposal to make all employees take days off without pay. "I think that is a far better idea than permanent layoffs," he said.

Other possibilities discussed included eliminating an incremental pay increase due some employees on Jan. 1 or imposing a 1 percent across-the-board pay cut.

Mr. Ratchford's plan included many of the elements suggested by Mr. Schaefer, including a transfer of $40 million from the state's parkland acquisition fund to the general treasury. He also recommended moving money into the treasury from the state's "Rainy Day Fund," set up for just such an economic emergency. But rather than moving $75 million, he suggested $60 million.

Such decisions ultimately will be made by the legislative leaders, who must then convince the governor to go along with their plan. Mr. Schaefer had threatened to put the first layoffs into effect New Year's Day.

Surprised at the length of Mr. Ratchford's list of additional projects, programs and funds that could be tapped in an economic emergency, Sen. James C. Simpson, D-Charles, remarked: "One thing, when you have a tight budget year, is you find out where the money is."

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