- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

BALTIMORE | Maryland state employees Thursday called on Gov. Martin O’Malley to do all he can to steer a $700 million budget shortfall away from already battered state agencies, but the governor braced for tough decisions — once again.

Union workers described how past budget cuts already are affecting state services. They held “No Layoffs!” and “No Pay Cuts!” signs at a news conference at the office of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Baltimore.

Mr. O’Malley, meanwhile, said he was doing his best to preserve the state’s top priorities in health, education and public safety. But as the recession continues to drag down state revenues, the governor conceded there wasn’t much that could escape review.

The Board of Public Works, which includes Mr. O’Malley, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, is set to take up about $300 million in cuts Wednesday. The board, which generally meets every two weeks, will decide on the rest later. The board already has had to make several rounds of midyear budget reductions since Mr. O’Malley took office in 2007.

“We have to look at everything,” Mr. O’Malley told reporters.

Workers described longer waits for social services and fewer employees to keep an eye on troubled youths as some of the problems that could be further aggravated by more budget cuts.

“We’re at the bone,” said Patrick Moran, executive director of the Maryland chapter of AFSCME. “There’s no more meat. There’s no more fat left, so I don’t understand where they are going to cut without drastically reducing the services and staffing levels.”

Ed Shoemake, a resident adviser at the Meadow Mountain Youth Center in Granstsville, said conditions in the state’s juvenile services facilities are getting more challenging, and he implored the governor to keep that in mind as budget decisions are made.

Mr. Shoemake mentioned the escape of 14 youths from the Victor Cullen Center near Sabillasville in May as an example of the strain.

“The youth centers in our state are seriously understaffed, and the employees are overworked,” Mr. Shoemake said.

Mary Townes, a family service care worker for the state’s department of social services in Baltimore, said caseloads have “skyrocketed” due to reductions.

“This means we cannot spend as much time as we would like with each case in our caseload,” Ms. Towns said.

Mr. O’Malley told reporters the administration has worked out about half of the necessary spending reductions, but he declined to mention specific details.

“This is a daunting challenge,” the governor said. “The solution will be very painful and will require cuts in many, many places of our state government that we would never want to cut were it not for this contraction in the economy, the absence of these dollars.”

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, scheduled a meeting with staff on Thursday to discuss the other half of the cuts. He said the reductions will come from “many of the same things that we’ve already had to cut once or twice before.”

“All of it will be painful; none of it will be popular; and all of it will require us all to make sacrifices and understand that we’re in this together,” Mr. O’Malley said. “And while it’s really difficult now, we’re going to come out of this together. There will one day be an end to this recession, and we need to protect the priorities of Maryland’s families.”

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