- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Maryland state employees Friday began the first day of unpaid leave to help reduce the state’s unexpectedly large budget shortfall, as workers and their union leaders worry about an even bleaker fiscal 2009.

The furlough plan by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, will affect thousands of employees and is expected to save an estimated $34 million. This is the first time state employees have been required to take unpaid leave since 1992, the last U.S. recession. Most employees must take off two days, but those making more than $40,000 must take additional ones.

While the furloughs were ordered to help make up for $415 million in less-than-expected revenue for fiscal 2008, next year’s budget deficit estimate is nearly $2 billion, causing additional anxiety for state workers.

“I’m worried about what the next set of cuts is going to be,” said Mildred Womble, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union representative for workers at the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration.

The O’Malley administration already has made several rounds of budget cuts, creating increasingly difficult decisions.

Last week, Mr. O’Malley’s budget secretary proposed cutting $37.9 million from a fund for parts of Maryland where education costs more.

Miss Womble said state employees are looking for second jobs.

“A lot of people, they’re worried,” said Miss Womble, who has been working for the state for 30 years.

Andre Powell, a union steward at the Department of Social Services, in Baltimore, said many employees are thankful to have avoided layoffs, but there’s a lot of nervousness about the coming year. Mr. Powell, who is a negotiator on a union bargaining team, also said the furloughs gave his office one less day to help process applications for food stamps or medical assistance, requests that have been increasing as the economy continues to sour.

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