‘Doomsday’ would eliminate crucial public safety grants, officials say -- Gazette.Net


One provision of the state’s so-called “doomsday” budget is to scrap grants to local law enforcement agencies, a move that could have drastic implications for Baltimore, according to city officials.

Fewer prosecutors, employee furloughs and canceled police academy classes are all possible. “This means fewer officers on the street, because we won’t be able to hire enough new officers to keep up with attrition rates,” Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said in an email.

Losing the state grants could eliminate 18 prosecutors, almost 10 percent of the city’s total, and abolish 92 police officer positions, according to O’Doherty.

In all, 19 grant programs totaling $20.8 million from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, or GOCCP, would be eliminated as part of the $512 million in funding reductions included in the state’s default budget. That spending plan will go into effect July 1 unless the legislature finishes work on the budget.

Talk in Annapolis this week suggests legislative leaders are increasingly likely to convene a special session of the General Assembly the week of May 14, but the threat of the doomsday budget still has many worried about its consequences. Others, including Republican legislators, say the doomsday budget might be good for a state that they say spends too much generally.

House Republicans argued last month that at $35.4 billion, the plan is about $700 million larger than the fiscal 2012 budget.

“I don’t think most Maryland taxpayers are even going to notice these very small cuts that will go into place,” said Christopher B. Summers, president of the conservative Maryland Public Policy Institute. “Maryland doesn’t suffer from a revenue problem, it’s a spending problem.”

Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market, said a budget with an overall increase in spending didn’t deserve to be called “doomsday.”

“I call it a living-within-your- means budget,” he said.

But Del. Michael G. Summers (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly said the spending plan is worse for some than for others.

“In Prince George’s County it will greatly impact our way of life,” Summers said.

Meanwhile, some jurisdictions say they’re more prepared to roll with the cuts.

“I just don’t think it’s that big a deal for us,” said Garrett County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt. Overall, Garrett was anticipating a $2.7 million decrease in funding, one that had already prompted the closing of two undercapacity elementary schools, one with about 300 students, one with about 50, Pagenhardt said.

“The board of education did the prudent thing [by closing the schools],” Pagenhardt said. A special session to raise revenues and restore some funding might be nice, but officials weren’t depending on it, he said.

A reduction in public safety funding was about equal to two full-time patrol positions, and the county had asked workers in its roads department to decline a scheduled raise agreed-to in collective bargaining to help compensate for the cuts, Pagenhardt said.

“We’re used to having money taken away by the state,” he said.

Dorchester County is similarly poised to deal with the cuts, officials say.

“We had our Draconian year last year,” said Michael Spears, county finance director. The county’s $53.3 million fiscal 2012 operating budget eliminated most of its $4.1 million structural deficit through layoffs, pay reductions and a tax increase, he said.

“It positioned us better than some other counties,” Spears said.

But some of those other counties are facing bigger hits to public safety and education.

Many of the grants facing elimination in a doomsday budget pay for initiatives focused in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County.

Two prosecutor positions, planned to focus exclusively on repeat offenders in Prince George’s and paid for by a $350,000 state grant, would be eliminated, said John Erzen, spokesman for county State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. Another prosecutor, dedicated to firearms-related cases and paid for by a different grant, also would be eliminated, according to Erzen.

Funds also would be cut for a statewide grant to help county police departments monitor sex offenders in their jurisdictions. The grants often paid overtime for officers to track down registered offenders to make sure they were complying with their parole, said Bill Toohey, spokesman for the GOCCP.

Some jurisdictions have sent officers to make sure registered offenders aren’t trying to find work as Santa Claus at shopping malls or aren’t handing out candy at Halloween, Toohey said.

Education officials are also warning of disastrous consequences if the default budget takes effect.

Prince George’s County Public Schools could receive as much as $51 million less funding than anticipated, which could mean increased class sizes, program cuts, layoffs and furloughs.

“If lawmakers do not make public education a top priority, it will have a disproportionate impact on poor and minority children not just in our county, but across the State," said Briant Coleman, spokesman for county schools, in a statement.

Public higher education is also facing a cut of 10 percent, or $38.5 million, likely to result in an in-state tuition hike of 12 to 13 percent, said Mike Lurie, spokesman for the University System of Maryland.

In-state undergraduates at the University of Maryland, College Park, for example, who currently pay just under $7,000, could see their tuition increase by about $900.

Cuts could also reduce the available amount of financial aid.

"That worries us because it would deprive families [that are] most in need of important resources," Lurie said.