Wednesday, June 23, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Board of Public Works yesterday eliminated 361 positions from the state government.

Board members Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, Democrats, voted unanimously to cut 318 unfilled positions and lay off 43 state workers before the fiscal 2005 budget begins July 1.

“It is something we take very seriously,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

The 24 employees in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the 16 in the Department of Human Resources and the three other workers will be notified about their layoffs this week.

The vote came after lawmakers mandated the reductions but allowed agencies and the Board of Public Works, headed by Mr. Ehrlich, to choose which jobs to trim to preserve the state’s projected $87 million surplus in fiscal 2005.

Nelson J. Sabatini, health department secretary, said most of the workers to be laid off at the 8,000-member agency are administrators and staff.

“My highest priority was not to eliminate any direct patient-care workers,” such as nurses, Mr. Sabatini said.

Earlier this week, Budget Secretary James C. “Chip” DiPaula Jr. said Mr. Ehrlich’s plan to balance the fiscal 2006 budget of $24 billion will include reducing agency budgets by as much as 12 percent. He also said the governor will not agree with Democrats to increase sales and income taxes to bolster the budget.

“We are asking every agency to go through and evaluate their programs,” Mr. DiPaula said.

Mr. DiPaula said he also warned agency officials that their 2006 budgets would be 88 percent to 95 percent of what they received for fiscal 2005.

“Governor Ehrlich is committed to returning Maryland to fiscal balance,” he said.

The state is projecting an $830 million shortfall for fiscal 2006 left by Mr. Ehrlich’s predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

The Maryland State Department of Education will receive a 10 percent budget increase, despite the looming cuts.

The state also is conducting a review, to be concluded in September, that should yield a long list of programs that can be eliminated.

“This has always been the plan from Day One to undergo an analysis,” said Mr. Ehrlich, who promised to reduce the size of government during his gubernatorial campaign. “It has nothing to do with the economy. The taxpayers deserve some efficiency.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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