WASHINGTON – The number of state and local government workers in Maryland grew by 2 percent between 2001 and 2002, to more than 285,000 positions, capping several years of growth before the state budget faltered, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday.
The Census report said that governments in Maryland added the equivalent of close to 34,000 new full-time employees from 1997 to 2002, a 13 percent increase. The overall payroll for those workers in the same period rose more than 39 percent.
The report measured government employment in March 2002, just as the state’s budget problems started to become evident. State personnel officials were not able to say Wednesday how many government jobs have been cut since then, referring all calls to Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s office.
A spokesman there said the growth in government payrolls was indicative of the tenure of former Gov. Parris Glendening.
“There’s no question that the state spending of the previous administration far outstripped the taxpayers’ ability to pay for it,” said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman. “State spending grew 60 percent (under Glendening) while per capita income only rose 40 percent.”
But the growth of Maryland governments was comparable to other governments in the region, according to the Census report. It said Maryland’s state and local payroll grew by 7.4 percent between 2001 and 2002, compared to 7.1 percent in Virginia and 6.5 percent in Washington, D.C.
Local government officials said the growth was a response to a demand at the time for more state and local services.
“In the recent past there has been . . . increased needs for teachers, brought about by an exploding school population, (and) an increased need for public safety workers — cops and firefighters — because of pressing public safety concerns certainly exacerbated by homeland security worries,” said David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties.
“Citizens expect sufficient teachers to educate their children and expect sufficient cops and firefighters to answer their emergency needs,” Bliden said.
Maryland police departments added 978 workers — both uniformed and not — to state and local forces between 1997 and 2002, according to the Census. The number of elementary and secondary school teachers grew by 11,767 during the same five-year period.
But Bliden said that Maryland county governments are no longer growing. And in the face of the current budget situation — the projected state deficit is $700 million — and diminishing financial support from the state, local service may actually be cut unless taxes are raised.
“In the last cycle, 13 of the state’s 24 counties raised taxes,” he said. “County officials don’t relish raising taxes, they do it because they have a duty to respond to citizens critical needs.”