Legislative leaders say they have enough votes to pass a controversial plan to cut $147 million in state aid to local governments.
The presiding officers said yesterday that they expect the Maryland General Assembly to meet in special session next month to approve the cut, which is a crucial piece of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to eliminate a projected $450 million budget deficit.
The proposal would shift the burden of paying Social Security taxes for teachers, librarians and community college employees from the state government to their actual employers -- the 23 counties and Baltimore. The Maryland State Teachers Association opposes the plan, saying it is a back-door cut to education.
Many state lawmakers disagree, however, saying the state should not have to pay fringe benefits based on salary levels they cannot control. Some suggest the real fear among teachers is that the change will limit their ability to get pay raises.
"The consensus I've gotten is that there are the votes to pass it," said R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., speaker of the House of Delegates. Mr. Mitchell, an Eastern Shore Democrat, said he would not have a final count until he hears from some county delegations today, but he is confident he has the votes.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he, too, has enough votes for the cuts. "No new taxes are going to be raised during the 1993 session of the General Assembly. We have a deficit, and the only way of dealing with it is [through] cuts," the Prince George's County Democrat said.
Mr. Miller and Mr. Mitchell did make a concession to worried county officials yesterday when the two leaders promised not to seek any more cuts from local governments for the rest of this budget year, which ends June 30.
They made that promise in a private meeting with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and representatives of Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Baltimore, Prince George's and Montgomery county governments.
The mayor and county executives presented Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Miller with a letter requesting that, after the $147 million is cut in November, the state leave their budgets intact for the remainder of this budget year and next. The letter also asked legislators not to foist new programs on local governments unless the state plans to foot the bill.
The two lawmakers have not drafted a reply yet, but Mr. Miller said they agreed to work toward addressing the counties' concerns.
The rest of the $450 million deficit reduction plan, parts of which were approved last month, calls for deep cuts to the state's welfare and Medicaid programs along with the creation of a new lottery game.
The Board of Public Works voted Sept. 30 to cut more than 30,000 people from Medicaid rolls and to reduce welfare grants for families to 1988 levels. The board also agreed to trim monthly checks for disabled adults by 25 percent, to $150 a month. And 481 state employees were told they will lose their jobs.
The budget cuts are necessary to avoid a projected shortfall in the fiscal year that began less than four months ago. The budget was prepared using overly optimistic forecasts about the state's economy, officials have said, and revenues from income and other taxes have not been coming in at the rate originally expected.
At another meeting in Annapolis yesterday, Speaker Mitchell faced the fiercest opponents to the Social Security plan -- the delegates from Montgomery County. That jurisdiction stands to lose the most under the cost-reduction plan in part because its teachers earn the most money.
"This is a Band-Aid approach," complained Del. Michael R. Gordon, a Montgomery Democrat. "I think it's an affront to the educational establishment of this state."