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In this 2003 photo, corrections officers work at Western Correctional Institution near Cumberland. Gov. Larry Hogan and the Board of Public Works last week delayed action on the elimination of 63 human resources jobs in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Md. budget reductions could bring more job eliminations

More state job eliminations could be coming as departments look to reduce spending as part of a mandate by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan and the Board of Public Works last week delayed action on the elimination of 63 human resources jobs in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The move has raised concerns among lawmakers and union officials that Hogan is forgoing a promise made earlier this year. The fear, they say, is that more cuts could be coming as departments look for ways to achieve 2 percent across-the-board cuts mandates by the governor — fears Hogan’s staff does little to allay.

“My fear is where we get back into session there will be more [job eliminations],” said Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “It appears [Hogan’s] promise is gone, wiped away.”

Del. Maggie McIntosh. (File)

Del. Maggie McIntosh. (File)

Hogan, who proposed his first budget in January just a day after he was sworn in, said at the time that his spending plan would not rely on layoffs despite his demand that each agency reduce spending by 2 percent.

That was before a legislative review of the budget and a bitter conflict developed between  Hogan and legislative Democrats. The Republican governor sought to reduce spending and to wipe out a structural deficit in one year; Democrats tried to protect raises and non-mandatory school spending through a plan they said would eliminate the structural deficit in two years.

Over Hogan’s objections, the legislature passed its plan and fenced off $200 million in spending — a move that didn’t require the governor to spend the money but limited what he could use it for if he did. The difference in the effect on the out years was minute, legislative leaders point out.

State departments are still under a mandate by the governor to reduce spending by 2 percent, and the reductions set up the potential debate over the right size of state government.

McIntosh noted that the number of state employees has decreased over the last two decades. In 1996, there were 52,778 executive branch employees and 72,898 when all legislative, judiciary and higher education positions are included. Those numbers are expected to drop in the current budget year to 50,602 executive branch employees and 80,801 overall.

Meanwhile, the number of open state positions stands at 3,992 — just 126 fewer than when Hogan took office six months ago, according to the Department of Budget and Management.

The proposed reductions within the corrections department’s human resources unit would not be part of that effort. The department plans to use the job eliminations, including about two dozen currently filled positions, to reorganize its human resources operations. Currently, staff is located at each correctional facility in the state and a centralized facility at the Reisterstown Plaza.

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, called the proposal “a wholesale firing of people, not anything different than that.”

“They’re trying to find every way they can to cut costs,” said Moran, whose union represents state employees including corrections department workers.

Matt Clark, a Hogan spokesman, said that state agency cost reduction plans are at various stages of completion. He declined to discuss what had been submitted and while not saying there could be more job cuts, he also would not rule it out. He laid the need for any cuts squarely at the feet of the General Assembly.

“The budget that passed is the General Assembly’s budget,” Clark said, adding that governor believed the plan he put in place in January would have negated the need for job eliminations while at the same time taming the concerns about the state budget that he campaigned on.

“We’re going to have to find ways to deal with that,” Clark said. “It will be difficult. Every agency will have to come up with ways to deal with the issues they face. The structural deficit created by the General Assembly is very real and serious and it’s going to have to be addressed. We urgently need to save money right now. The concern we have over our budget long term is great. Not taking action just isn’t an option.”

But McIntosh balks at the idea that the legislature bears the responsibility for any potential job eliminations that may be in the offing.

“If we had the General Assembly’s budget in front of us then we’d have full funding of (the geographic cost of education index), we’d have the Red Line, we’d have the Purple Line fully funded, we’d have a number of projects that have either disappeared or are not fully funded,” McIntosh said.