State and local officials pledged support yesterday to people threatened with loss of their jobs by proposed military base closings, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he will "start tomorrow" to find new uses for abandoned military facilities.
At the same time, Casper R. Taylor Jr., speaker of the state House of Delegates, conceded that state officials had not done much planning to deal with coming federal job losses.
"We're beginning to now," the Cumberland Democrat said yesterday. "We now know it's going to happen. Up until November, it was all political rhetoric."
Mr. Glendening said he thought the state might lose one or two military bases, but he was not ready for losses of "this magnitude."
The governor praised Maryland's congressional representatives dTC and senators for "their hard work" in trying to save the bases.
In its paring of the nation's military, the federal Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission voted Friday to close Fort Ritchie near Hagerstown, the Naval Warfare centers in Annapolis and White Oak in Montgomery County, the Army publication center in Middle River, the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, and Fort Holabird in East Baltimore. The 458 jobs at Fort Holabird would be transferred to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.
The commission also would eliminate inpatient services at Kimbrough Army Hospital at Fort Meade, and eliminate the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda. Some functions from the latter would go to Walter Reed Institute for Research at Forest Glen.
The panel must send its final list to President Clinton by July 1. He has 15 days to approve or disapprove it without change. If approved, the list goes to Congress, where it becomes law in 45 days unless both houses reject it in its entirety.
The governor described the proposed cuts as a "heavy blow" to Maryland but predicted that the state's economy will absorb most of the unemployed.
"A real solution has got to be in aggressively expanding the private sector," he said.
Among the most heavily hit areas in the state would be Washington County in Western Maryland, which would lose Fort Ritchie.
The 638-acre installation employs about 2,500 military and civilian workers. Its closing would cost at least 600 jobs; 936 would be transferred to Fort Detrick, 32 miles away in Frederick County; and 560 jobs would be transferred to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and elsewhere.
Richard Palmer, director of economic development for Washington County, said local officials "have no alternative" except to look on the closing as an opportunity to attract new businesses.
Washington County civic, government and business leaders are to meet Thursday at Fort Ritchie to discuss possible uses for the property, he said. The federal government must offer bases being closed to other federal agencies first. If there are no takers, the property is then offered to state and local governments.
"We've been meeting mainly to talk about the economic impact of Fort Ritchie's possible closure," Mr. Palmer said. "Now we're going to talk about its uses if we can lay claim to it."
Mr. Taylor said a Washington County industry is planning a major expansion that would involve hundreds of positions and might lessen the blow of job losses. He would not be more specific but predicted an announcement by summer's end.
In order to attract new business, he said, state political leaders must fulfill their commitment to cutting taxes and try to make business regulations less cumbersome.
In Anne Arundel County, economic development director Mike Lofton worried that an abandoned Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis could not be turned to civilian use because it is part of a complex of several hundred acres on the north shore of the Severn River across from the Naval Academy.
"This would make it unavailable to us unless the whole place closed, which is not likely," he said. "Our best recovery possibility is if the Navy replaced it with another science-oriented activity."
The center's closure would mean the loss of two military and 418 civilian jobs.
Two military and 91 civilian jobs would be lost at the Army's publications warehouse in a converted factory on Eastern Boulevard in Middle River in Baltimore County.
"It's unfortunate that the Army decided to close it," said County ,, Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III. "We'll work with the Army and state to find a new use for the facility and jobs for those affected."
Baltimore officials couldn't be reached yesterday for comment on the loss of jobs at Fort Holabird, a blow to the city's declining job base.
James T. Brady, the state's economic development secretary, said the state must continue to compete for new business to make up for the losses.
"The only solution is to create good-paying jobs in the private sector," he said. "We are talking. We have all kinds of players involved, but I'm not comfortable talking about specifics now."
Mr. Glendening said some of his economic advisers will contact private companies in the hope of finding jobs for displaced employees.
Meanwhile, Maryland's U.S. senators are seeking a Federal Drug Administration campus with about 7,000 jobs for the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak.
But with as many as 20,000 federal job cuts coming to Maryland in the next four years, Mr. Glendening said the state's best
defense is developing more private business.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. questioned how much the state can do to handle the loss of military jobs, noting that larger federal cuts at such places as NASA are coming.
"I think these base closings are simply a sign of what is in store for the state of Maryland," said Mr. Miller, a Prince George's Democrat. "It's what basically the public voted for in November. The people are going to get what they asked for for the next four years."