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Budget shavers see no layoffs


Maryland's legislative leaders say the state budget, now $242 million in the red, can be balanced without layoffs.

The legislature's fiscal analysts have come up with a menu of budget cuts that would hit sounder plans lawmakers are considering.

"With tough budget cuts and some imagination, I think we can avoid state employees getting pink slips over the holidays," says Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

"I think we can do this without layoffs," says House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr.

Legislative leaders hunkered down last night with their chief fiscal adviser, William S. Ratchford 2nd, to hear his ideas on balancing the budget.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed laying off about 1,800 state employees in January to help balance the budget. Legislators hope to finish their own budget balancing plan soon. The budget must be balanced when the current fiscal year closes next June 30.

Ratchford came up with several money-saving ways that were not part of Schaefer's plan last week.

For instance, the state could save about $37 million by furloughing all state employees one day a month for six months. A 1 percent salary cut for all state workers would save roughly $8 million.

Lawmakers also are considering a variety of other cuts, including postponing the planned public safety training center in Carroll County, which would save $12 million. The state could save about $10.5 million by canceling the proposed golf course in Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland. Schaefer has proposed preserving the project.

Ratchford also targeted about $21 million in loan and development programs in the Department of Economic and Employment Development, including programs for small businesses.

In all, Ratchford found about $221 million in funds that could be cut without hurting state employees. Officials would have to come up with another $21 million in cuts in personnel costs to balance the budget, if all $221 million of the reductions are adopted.

Some of Schaefer's budget cuts appear to have found support from legislators, including taking about $60 million from the "rainy day fund," $13 million from the savings and loan recovery fund and $40 million from Program Open Space.

Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said lawmakers will present a list of options to Schaefer, including a plan for avoiding layoffs.

"We'd say, 'The rest would be up to you. You put the budget together,' " Levitan said.

Speaker Mitchell cautioned, "I don't want to give anybody false hopes. He [the governor] will still have to make a final decision."

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