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Layoff notices may start Monday Governor rejects most alternatives


Convinced there is no alternative, Gov. William Donald Schaefer says the state could begin sending layoff notices to as many as 1,800 state workers next Monday.

Although Schaefer has accepted a handful of cost-saving suggestions made this week by legislative leaders, he said there is no practical alternative to layoffs to help erase the state's $243 million budget deficit.

"If there were alternatives that would work without disrupting our forward progress, without disrupting our work force, I would have suggested it," he said yesterday.

Schaefer said he would like to give two weeks' notice to those who are fired. The layoffs would probably take effect Jan. 1, he said.

"It's going to be devastating," predicted Lance R. Cornine, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association. Employees planned a rally against the cuts today in Baltimore.

Schaefer sounded willing to listen to final recommendations from legislators, which are expected by tomorrow. He rejected suggestions by legislators and union leaders that the state avoid layoffs by furloughing employees one day a month.

"It's all very fine in theory, but you can't stop operating the hospitals," Schaefer said. "You can't stop operating the jails."

Furloughs would be hard to administer, said deputy state budget secretary Dennis H. Parkinson. For instance, furloughed employees would not be covered under their health insurance on the days they are on leave, Parkinson said. Legislative analysts estimated the state could save $36.8 million by furloughing all state employees one day a month for six months.

Cornine said state employees might be willing to go to a four-day work week to save everybody's job.

The governor said he won't propose reduced work weeks or other ideas pushed by union leaders to avoid layoffs, including early retirement incentives or salary cuts to reduce the number of layoffs required.

Instead, the governor said, he is considering forcing all state employees to work 40-hour weeks to make up some of the productivity lost through layoffs. About two-thirds of the state's 76,000 employees now work 35.5 hours a week, officials said. The governor refused to answer questions about the idea.

Schaefer said some legislative suggestions will reduce layoffs, but "not significantly." It is unclear how many employees will lose their jobs.

Parkinson said the administration already has ordered various state agencies to prepare to cut their budgets by certain percentages. Managers will be responsible for deciding how the cuts fall, he said.

Parkinson said he expected 30,000 contractual employees -- as opposed to permanent state workers -- to be the most vulnerable. Most such employees work part time.

Schaefer has ruled out layoffs in several departments, covering public safety, juvenile services and human resources. Transportation also is not affected because it is funded separately. That leaves health, natural resources, general services, environment, housing, and economic development to absorb many of the layoffs. Schaefer also is expected to lay off some of his staff.

An opinion issued last week by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said the governor is not bound to lay off employees in reverse order of seniority -- the normal method for layoffs. The tTC opinion said the laws and regulations covering layoffs do not apply when the governor eliminates funding for a specific position.

Curran's opinion, requested by the Schaefer administration, also declared the state has no legal obligation to give notice to employees whose jobs are being eliminated.

Despite opposition from lawmakers, Schaefer said he would fight any effort to stop building a golf course in Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland. Legislative analysts had suggested $11 million could be saved by canceling the project.

The governor said some of the things proposed by legislative analysts made no sense, such as taking $3 million out of the storm repair fund set up for the Ocean City beach.

J. Randall Evans, Schaefer's secretary of economic development, issued a statement calling "completely illogical" cuts proposed by legislators to scrap $21.5 million in economic development programs

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