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43 state workers are laid off as part of budget cutbacks

Forty-three state workers were laid off yesterday after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the Board of Public Works voted for personnel reductions and other budget trims to save $30 million.

The layoffs are to take effect July 1, but workers were notified and placed on administrative leave immediately after the morning vote, said Andrea Fulton, the state personnel and benefits chief.

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Leave was granted to help workers handle the shock of losing their jobs, Fulton said.

Two departments bore the brunt: 24 filled jobs were cut from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and 16 from the Department of Human Resources. Officials would not release a list of names or job titles eliminated.

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The General Assembly required the job cuts in the $23.6 billion budget for the 2005 fiscal year that it adopted in April. Reducing a spending plan originally proposed by the governor, lawmakers cut 139 full-time jobs and ordered the executive branch to identify and eliminate at least 351 more.

'Very unfortunate'

"It's very unfortunate business," said James C. "Chip" DiPaula, the secretary of budget and management.

After weeks of review, DiPaula selected for elimination 361 positions - 10 more than lawmakers required - to meet a dollar target set by the Assembly. Most of them were vacant.

The Transportation Department is the biggest overall loser, with 88 vacant positions cut. Forty-four human resources vacancies have been wiped out. In addition to the 24 layoffs in the health department, 48 vacant positions have been cut.

"It's not a pleasant day," said Nelson J. Sabatini, the state health secretary, adding that most of the cuts were at department headquarters in Baltimore. "As we speak, people are interviewing elsewhere in this department. For some of them, we will find other positions."

Ehrlich said the public will not notice a reduction in services. He empathizes with workers who have mortgages to pay, cars to insure and families to feed, he said, and he noted that terminated workers will continue to receive health benefits.

The state is giving laid-off workers a severance package that consists of four weeks of pay in a lump sum and fully paid health insurance and dental and prescription benefits through October for those enrolled in state plans.

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The Assembly required that half of the job cuts come from higher-paid positions such as public information officers, intergovernmental liaisons and other managers so that lower-paid workers would not shoulder a disproportionate burden.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said yesterday that the job reductions should come as no surprise because state officials have been talking about them for months to compensate for sluggish revenue growth and the expanding costs of education and health programs.

"That's been known since December," the Anne Arundel County Democrat said. "The preparations for moving those people should have been done prior to this."

Other areas cut

Other cuts made by the Board of Public Works yesterday include reductions in cell phone use, a deferred compensation matching program and services provided by the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The job reductions are one step as Ehrlich and lawmakers attempt to deal with projected revenue shortfalls well into the future. The governor ordered all department heads this week to evaluate their agencies and identify ancillary, inefficient or under-performing programs for possible elimination. He hopes to reduce spending growth by $800 million over two years.

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Yesterday's cuts leave the state work force at 73,800 positions, including higher education, down from 80,084 when Ehrlich took office. The Board of Public Works eliminated 963 positions in July, 83 of them filled.


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