The state's unemployment rate fell by one-half of a percentage point to 6.2% in September as overall employment in the state increased to its highest level in the past year, according to the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development.

The department said that the number of employed persons grew by 25,155 to 2.474 million, the highest level of employment in the last 12 months.

Mark L. Wasserman, the department's secretary, hailed the employment numbers as "a particularly encouraging sign that the recovery may be picking up steam." But Wasserman cautioned against reading too much into figures covering just one month.

The department said that other economic indicators also showed improvement during September. In the manufacturing sector, weekly hours and hourly earnings were above the levels of a year ago. And employment, both by place of residence and by place of work, increased during the month.

Likewise, new auto registrations, retail sales, and export tonnage at the Port of Baltimore showed gains over September 1992 levels.

When U.S. Department of Transportation and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials last week announced an innovative refinancing plan for outstanding authority bonds, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., was on hand to show his support, even though he conceded that he did not understand the plan entirely.

But Hoyer said he understood the bottom line quite well: The federal government and the authority -- hence taxpayers -- would save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Addressing Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, Hoyer said, "If I didn't know better, Mr. Secretary, I'd think you'd hired our Maryland comptroller, Louie Goldstein, who is very creative about saving money."

Under the plan, $997 million of federally guaranteed bonds issued by the authority in the 1970s will be called. The authority will issue about $330 million of tax-exempt bonds to retire its one-third share of the old debt, while the transportation department will get a loan from the Treasury Department to pay off its share of the bonds.

The transaction is expected to bring the authority $30 million in cash, and will save the federal government about $11 million annually, or more than $200 million overall.

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