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Editorial: Stop kicking the fiscal can

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s decision to offer buyouts to state employees is a small but important step in the right direction for state government.

The governor, under orders from the Legislature to cut 500 jobs from the state work force by the end of 2011, hopes the buyouts will play an important role in satisfying that mandate.

The buyout terms are appropriately modest in challenging fiscal times — $15,000 plus $200 per year of service and three months of medical benefits — and it remains to be seen how many workers will sign up.

But the important point to note here is that these would be permanent reductions of the state work force, not another round of furloughs or fund transfers or accounting gimmicks or eliminating vacant positions.

Until now, the governor has tended to avoid permanent cutbacks whenever possible, presumably in hopes that the economy would recover faster and that he would not have to deliver too much bad news before last month’s election.

He handily won re-election but the recovery continues to lag and the state’s fiscal problems continue to mount. It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and to start making prudent, tough decisions to bring state spending in line with revenues.

As things stand now, the governor is facing a $1.6 billion gap between projected revenues and expenditures in the budget he must submit to the General Assembly next month. That’s before he tries to spend a dime on anything new.

One of the realities of life in Maryland must be a smaller state work force, which now numbers 80,000.

The legislative and judicial branches as well as the University System of Maryland are excluded from the buyout program, but all state positions must be evaluated carefully as part of an ongoing process to bring state government staffing and spending in line with the new economic reality.

2 comments

  1. Maryland state workers have been feeling the pain of “the new economic reality” for the past several years. In fact, it is arguable that only the state workers have been paying the price in Maryland for the current economic reality by constantly having their “cans kicked.” State workers have been furloughed, had paychecks reduced, have been asked to take on far more work with less workers, and have lost their jobs altogether. This constant refrain that there needs to be a smaller state work force is tiring. There is no more to give by these workers unless Maryland’s citizens want to have necessary services performed by state workers come to a halt due to insufficient staffing. This is especially true in light of the fact that neither the legislature nor the judiciary are made to feel the pinch. I am confident that if these two branches of government were examined closely unnecessary spending will be found. In fact, let’s start by looking at the governor’s staff for some reductions: 11 members in his press office; that’s 6 more members than he has in his “financial administration”. Since he can’t be re-elected, can’t we have less “photo ops” and self-congratulatory news releases? Then there are two deputy chiefs of staff (in addition to the chief of staff), each with his own executive assistants and numerous special assistants; assistants for Mrs. O’Malley; not to mention the Government House staff including a resident manager, and his assistant, chefs, drivers and on and on and on. It’s obvious that a Governor of any state requires a large staff but in Maryland it’s time to stop going to the state agencies’ worker well and demanding more sacrifice when the governor does not even clean his own house. And it’s time for an equal distribution of the hurt among branches of government if the state’s budget is going to be balanced, as it seems, solely on the back of state workers. Making difficult economic choices should not mean automatically re-examining the same portion of the state work force. If cuts to the legislative, judicial and Univ. System of Maryland are off-limits, then the real difficult choice would look to the individual counties to bear the burden of paying their own way or a higher portion of their own way when it comes to teacher pensions. How is it that Baltimore County boasted a surplus last year and gave county employees modest pay raises but can’t take on any more fiscal responsibility currently borne by the state government for its teachers’ pensions? The bottom line is that further reducing an already limited portion of the state workforce is the coward’s choice, not the tough one.

  2. Nancy – I’m sure I speak for all of the underpaid and over worked State workers – thank you! The kicker is the Gov’s ridiculous number of staff employees. It makes me sick. ELEVEN PRESS EMPLOYEES? A CHEF??? Now I would like to know what he or they eat. If we’re paying for it anything above and beyond Ramen Noodles is not acceptable and one of his many assistants can boil the water for him. Let him eat at Subway for lunch as many of us do. If he’s too busy thinking of more ways to punish us he can send one of those assistants to get it. You should most definitely send your remarks to the Sun, TV stations and the Gov’s office. I’m going to see if I can find names of these disposable employees and check their salaries. There’s a site that lists all 80,000 of us. This will only make me more furious, but I think they should be published also.