State Treasurer Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) has joined Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) in opposing the governor’s budget proposal — which goes before the Board of Public Works this morning.
Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. said the spending cuts are necessary to deal with declining revenue brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. Unions representing state workers, and some legislators, protested the cuts at a rally Tuesday, calling them unfair and made in haste.
Franchot announced Tuesday that he would oppose $205 million worth of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s proposed 2021 budget cuts. The Baltimore Sun reported that Kopp also will oppose parts of the Hogan budget.
Hogan is the third of three members of the Board of Public Works, which has sole domain over the state budget when the General Assembly isn’t in session.
Hogan — who has been absent at the bi-monthly meetings since the onset of the pandemic — will attend today after the comptroller publicly called for the governor to chair the meeting.
Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) had been chairing the meetings in Hogan’s stead.
Franchot has his eyes on running for governor in 2022, when Hogan cannot run again because of term limits, and AFSCME members are well aware of his intentions.
Unionized state workers rallied Tuesday afternoon to vote down major spending cuts, wage decreases and potential job losses. Nearly 100 cars met at AFSCME’s Baltimore headquarters to caravan through downtown, a cacophony of horns emphasizing .
“We’re here today to call on the governor, the comptroller and then entire Board of Public Works to vote no on these cuts and any cuts on frontline employees,” Cherrish Vick, secretary-treasurer of AFSCME Maryland told rally attendees.
Vick, a family services caseworker at the Prince George’s County’s Department of Social Services, has been a state employee for 12 years. She said that before these proposed aggressive budget cuts, she already has gone without some cost-of-living salary adjustments.
“We have worked during this pandemic,” she said. “We’re giving Gov. Hogan the ‘worst boss’ award because although we worked tirelessly during this pandemic, since he’s been in office he has not worked with AFSCME the way that he should to get all of the benefits that these state employees are eligible for — that they deserve.”
The Maryland Professional Employees Council, another of the state’s six employee unions, held a similar, smaller rally in Annapolis Tuesday evening.
Earlier this month, the Department of Budget Management sent a list of proposed budget cuts to union representatives in the state, giving them about a week to respond to a series of massive budget and benefit cuts, including:
- scaling-back positions across state agencies
- eliminating cost-of-living salary increases and raises for 2021
- cutting salaries by five percent beginning Wednesday, July 1
- reevaluating overtime payment
- reducing state employee health benefits
AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran also alleged that AFSCME was the only labor organization that did not receive the contested proposals.
Moran told Maryland Matters that the union was interested in discussing proposals with the department, but after a series of exchanges, no meeting was held, meaning no negotiations were had and no proposal was brought forth.
The Department of Budget and Management corroborated AFSCME’s exclusion.
Asked why the agency never met with AFSCME, department spokesman Nicholas Pepersack said in an email to Maryland Matters last week that they were “disappointed” the union didn’t want to play ball.
“The Department of Budget and Management appreciates that all but one of our unions have agreed to work hand-in-hand with the Administration to tackle this unprecedented crisis by coming to the table to negotiate with us on some tough but necessary proposals,” Pepersack wrote. “We are disappointed that AFSCME would rather spend this time trying to belittle the fiscal challenge before us instead of using it to make sure their members’ voices are being heard where they will do the most good—at the bargaining table.”
Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), who attended the Baltimore AFSCME rally Tuesday afternoon, called Hogan’s proposed cuts “draconian.” She said the governor is “hiding behind COVID-19” to make cuts his administration always wanted to make “but have never really had the courage to do.”
Washington said it’s important to ensure that the state doesn’t make hasty decisions that could exacerbate repercussions of the pandemic.
“We already know that families are suffering, and so continuing to make additional cuts — that not only hurt the working families but then also will cut services to the people of Maryland — so we need to be very strategic in the reductions that we make,” Washington said.
‘Fund the frontlines’
“This is a message from us — the frontline employees — to the Board of Public Works: We are here to fight for a better Maryland,” Vick declared to rally attendees. “Stand with us and vote against these cuts, because the decisions we make during this crisis will be remembered for years to come.”
“If you are here today and you are going to remember how the comptroller votes on these cuts tomorrow when you vote for the next governor, let me hear you clap your hands,” Vick told the crowd. They erupted, chanting “Fund the frontlines.”
It seems that workers in the state’s public and community colleges also face the chopping block.
The University System of Maryland is looking at a potential $117.3 million in cuts; Morgan State University could see up to $8.9 million in reductions; and St. Mary’s College of Maryland has the potential to lose more than $2 million.
Baltimore City Community College is looking at a potential loss of more than $3 million. Christina Carter, an AFSCME member and employee of that community college, said they’re already short-staffed and over-worked. She said these budget cuts could be the end of Baltimore Community College as an institution.
“It’s the personnel that keeps the college running. We are the ones that if we don’t provide the service to the students, there’s no college,” Carter explained. “And they don’t understand that.”
AFSCME member Kahai Frasier called Hogan’s proposed cuts to Baltimore City Community College “a stab in the back”.
“We’re here when you need us, but we need you now,” she implored. “Don’t back down on us.”
Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery County) said that Hogan is choosing to balance the state budget “on the backs of people who really don’t deserve it and can least afford it”.
“This seems like the wrong time to be doing this when we don’t have the full budget picture, we’re just literally at the start of the fiscal year, and instead of saying ‘Let’s sit down together and figure out how we’re going to get through this,’ it’s ‘My way or the highway — here are the cuts, take it or leave it,’” Solomon said.
The legislator suggested a series of other routes the state could take to prevent these cuts, including dipping further into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which, before the pandemic, contained more than $1 billion.
“Why aren’t we tapping more of that?” he asked. “It’s there for this purpose — frankly, it’s pouring.”
Solomon said another pending round of federal CARES Act coverage could deliver additional financial assistance to states amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hogan, who is head of the National Governor’s Association, said he is leading a “bipartisan effort” for an additional $500 billion in relief from the federal government.
“In this unprecedented crisis, more than 1.6 million government workers have already been laid off, and states across the country face the prospect of devastating cuts to essential services,” Hogan said in a statement. “If swift action is not taken, states will be forced to make cuts that could cost several million additional jobs, which would further stall the recovery.”