ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — The financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the state’s budget in a big way.

The Maryland state employees caravan past the governor’s Baltimore office Tuesday in advance of Wednesday’s public works hearing.

“This is our caravan to oppose the ‘kick-em-while-they’re-down’ budget that the governor has proposed,” Patrick Moran, President of AFSCME-3, said.

Fiscal Year 2021 starts Wednesday, and with it, the Board of Public Works will vote on the governor’s proposed $672 million in cuts. Many service employees said they’ve been stretched thin responding to the pandemic.

“It’s like cutting the fire department during a wildfire,” Moran said. “You just don’t do that. You’re not going to cut your way through this.”

The governor also asked the General Assembly to cut another $700 million when it reconvenes. He hinted at the dire forecast in briefings this spring.

“It’s going to be devastating to the state budget,“ Gov. Hogan said in March. “We’re going to tap into–and perhaps drain–the rainy day fund.”

That ‘rainy day fund’ is down to about one billion dollars after using $300 million so far, according to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.

In early April, the governor implemented a budget and hiring freeze. At that time, the comptroller projected a potential $2.8 billion revenue loss for 2020.

“If there’s not a medical solution to the virus and there’s not a big subsidy program from the federal government, we could be facing anywhere between $2 billion to $4 billion in an annual shortfall,” Franchot said.

By phone Tuesday, Franchot told WJZ he will vote for about $205 million in cuts, not go into effect yet. The board, he said, can always revisit cuts later.

“We don’t need to go after vulnerable citizens or our educational institutions right now,” Franchot said.

Service employees demonstrating Tuesday said the cuts are dramatic and draconian.

“The bond report doesn’t come out until July 15,” Moran said. “So I think they’re making a rush to judgement.”

Gov. Hogan announced Tuesday federal relief from the CARES Act to offset some of those cuts to education.

“If the comptroller doesn’t support these cuts, we look forward to seeing his specific alternatives, because the consequences of inaction and voting no are severe,” Gov. Hogan aide Mike Ricci said.

The governor is set to re-join the board Wednesday after an absence due to heading up the state’s pandemic response.

Paul Gessler

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