Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Three-card monte

State's surplus was achieved at a high cost
Originally published July 25, 2005 in The Baltimore Sun

On July 20, The Sun reported on Maryland's unexpected surplus, and indicated that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. claimed some credit for it ("Ehrlich says Maryland has surplus of $1 billion," July 20).

Of course, a better budget situation can be attributed to both increased revenues and decreased expenses.

On the revenue side, closing the Delaware tax loophole, which was a legislative initiative, and increasing the state property tax, which was the governor's initiative, both contributed significantly to increased revenues.

On the expense side, Mr. Ehrlich sought to balance the budget on the backs of the state work force.

One of his first acts in office was to refuse to comply with a collectively bargained 2 percent pay raise for state employees. Next, in spite of a campaign promise not to lay off employees, Mr. Ehrlich terminated hundreds of state employees with little or no notice.

Still not satisfied, Mr. Ehrlich shifted the burden of health insurance onto state retirees and employees by increasing basic health care costs and recently demanding more than $60 million in shifted costs for prescription drugs. Many employee and retiree prescriptions now cost literally 10 times what they cost one month ago.

The increased costs are not even covered by cost-of-living raises for many employees.

What do such policies mean for the average state taxpayer?

There are fewer correctional officers and there is more violence in Maryland prisons. Caseloads in social services, parole and probation, juvenile services continue to skyrocket. Tuition at state universities is higher.

Such cuts not only hurt state employees and higher-education workers, they also damage the quality of life of Maryland's residents.

A revolving door of state employees does not serve the citizens well. Now is the time to reverse this trend.

We ask Mr. Ehrlich to begin to pay state and higher-education employees what they are really worth. To acknowledge the dire need for increased staff and staff training. To restore critical services that have been cut.

Then Maryland will have something to be proud about.

Ron Bailey

The writer is executive director of AFSCME Council 92


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