First Click -- Maryland (Updated)
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009:
"...the Court cannot merely give lip service to the fundamental principles that undergird the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution. To do otherwise, even in these severe economic times, would sanction the County running roughshod over the Unions, who in good faith negotiated a binding contract ..." - U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr.
Lawyers, budget officers and union leaders across Maryland have begun scrambling today to make sense of a federal court ruling late Tuesday that found Prince George's County violated the U.S. Constitution last year when it imposed furloughs on thousands of police officers, firefighters and other public employees to balance its budget. The county - which has been among the most aggressive in the state in ordering furloughs - was ordered to quickly repay employees some $20 million in lost wages.
The ruling amounts to a budget bombshell in Maryland, and possibly many other states. It comes just days before Gov. Martin O'Malley and Maryland's Board of Public Works are scheduled to vote on nearly a half billion dollars in budget cuts. The governor's administration already has indicated the state's latest round of belt-tightening will rely heavily on furloughs. Tens of thousands of state employees are expected to lose wages for at least two days, and possibly a week or more. Hundreds of millions in cuts the board's expected to make to county governments were also likely to send a wave of furloughs cascading through local governments across the state
Union leaders have already begun warning that Tuesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. should give elected leaders in Maryland pause: "It sets precedent," said Glenard S. Middleton Sr., executive director of Maryland Public Employees Local 44. "It serves notice: a deal, is a deal, is a deal."
While Williams seemed to take particular exception with the way Prince George's handled its furloughs, his decision may offer uncomfortable parallels for the state: The county was trying to protect its coveted AAA bond rating on Wall Street, and still had money to spend on parks and pet projects, but chose to furlough state employees instead to balance its budget.
"...although the County suggests to the Court that it faced dire circumstances and had no
other reasonable alternatives, the record suggests otherwise and the County's actions resemble trappings of doing that which was 'politically expedient,'" Williams wrote.
Patrick Moran, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, which represents most state employees, said he understands the state has even less money than the counties, but the union has still not agreed to a furlough plan. "We're encouraging them to look to other places."
Advocates for Marylanders with developmental disabilities are promising one of the biggest budget protests in months this morning outside the State House in Annapolis. Advocates say 22,000 people with down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other disabilities depend on state-funded community services, and 19,000 are on a state-approved waiting list for residential, employment and day program services.
"Many of their family caregivers are elderly or young families struggling to keep their family together. People with disabilities worry about how long it will be before their family is unable to care for them at home with little or no help. People on Maryland's Waiting List and their families live in fear of the future," reads a flyer promoting the protest.
Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services also writes a column about the cuts here.
The protest comes as the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute issued a new report Tuesday outlining how the state's latest rounds of budget cuts impact poor and middle-income families.
MACo FACEBOOK FLAP
Maryland Politics Watch says interest has spiked on its site since blogger Adam Pagnucco reposted a sampling of 115 "party-time photos" found on Facebook showing members of Gov. Martin O'Malley's staff and others downing shots and apparently drinking late into the night following the officially sanctioned events at the Maryland Association of Counties meeting that ended Saturday in Ocean City.
"Governor Martin O'Malley made a big deal about wanting to have a 'sober' Maryland Association of Counties conference last week. But one of his staffers proved otherwise by releasing a whopping 115 party-time photos to the public on Facebook. Who knew that hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts could be so much fun?" Pagnucco wrote.
Pagnucco writes that most of the photos were posted by Jeremy Rosendale, the governor's deputy director of correspondence and constituent services, and were removed shortly after they were posted.
Response from O'Malley's Communications Office: "Jeremy Rosendale was on personal time, and stayed in a family residence in Ocean City. Most of the photos posted are of Jeremy and his personal friends."
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"There's never been a time I've felt more needed than now in the job I was elected to do."
- Gov. Martin O'Malley, on Tuesday, when asked about how much time he's beginning to spend on his upcoming re-election bid. O'Malley said he is spending a little time putting together a campaign machine, but said he's focused most on the state fiscal crisis. Keeping the state's social safety network in place as he works to balance the budget has become one of the greatest challenges of his career, he said.
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