11/06/2007 3:41 PM ET
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)- Maryland may not be getting new voting machines after all.A legislative subcommittee mulling budget cuts on Tuesday to address a state shortfall considered cutting $3.3 million from the State Board of Elections. That money was to be used to change the current voting system to one that uses paper ballots. Lawmakers voted last session to replace the state's Diebold voting machines with a new system that would leave a paper record, but that bill was contingent upon funding to take effect by the next gubernatorial election in 2010. The loss of the $3.3 million next year could put the voting change in danger, said Linda Lamone, Maryland's elections chief. "It would mean no new voting system would be implemented," said Lamone, who attended the hearing but did not address lawmakers. An analyst told the committee that Maryland needs to spend $29 million over the next five years to have the new voting machines in place by 2010. Marylanders will use the current Diebold machines in next year's presidential election. Lawmakers on the subcommittee didn't make a decision on the cut. Lawmakers are looking for $500 million in cuts to help address a projected deficit of $1.7 billion, said Delegate Norman Conway, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat, said it was too soon to tell whether the elections money was likely to be cut. Some lawmakers on the panel considering elections cuts said they don't see an urgent need to change voting machines now that the state is in a budget pinch. "I think the system we have now is good," said Delegate John Wood, a Democrat who represents Charles and St. Mary's counties. "I don't know why we need to change it." Another Democrat said she didn't see the need to change voting machines. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Delegate Barbara Robinson of Baltimore. Some other cuts got a more lukewarm reception from lawmakers. For example, the House committee debated whether to eliminate cost-of-living raises for state employees, who otherwise would get 2 percent raises for a tab of $62 million next year. Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee seemed skeptical about that cut. "Have we ever thought about the actual cost of living, about the cost of oil and gasoline and milk and butter and everything?" asked Delegate Tawanna Gaines, D-Prince George's. A budget manager for the state agency that proposed the cost-of-living cut, David Juppe, conceded that employees' buying power would decrease if they lost the 2 percent raises. State employees also face higher charges next year for their retirement, which means take-home pay would actually decrease without the 2 percent raises. "The buying power of state employees has been eroding," Juppe said. A state employees' union opposed the pay freeze, as well as a proposal to leave open 1,000 vacant jobs. Union representatives said stagnant pay and higher workloads caused by unfilled jobs are making state jobs unappealing. "If we're not competitive, you're not going to get the staff you need," said John Hutcherson, a correctional sergeant at the state's largest prison, the Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County. Lawmakers seemed to agree the wage freeze and unfilled jobs would hurt state services. "It seems like we're robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Delegate Susan Aumann, R-Baltimore County, who said any savings from a wage freeze could be wiped out by the cost of training new employees when current ones leave for better-paying jobs. Appropriations Committee members said decisions on which cuts to propose would be made in coming days. Besides the elections cut and the cost-of-living cut, lawmakers are considering dozens of other trims including less money for school reforms, no increase in stem cell research and eliminating a state incentive for film productions in Maryland.