Nearly 1,400 Maryland state employees offered to quit their jobs in exchange for a $15,000-plus severance package designed to save the state money, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley's office. The governor is aiming to save roughly $40 million with the buyouts as he looks to close a fiscal 2012 budget gap of at least $1.3 billion, according to O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec.

The severance package includes a one-time payment of $15,000 and an additional $200 for every year of service. The payoff also provides three months of medical and dental benefits.

O'Malley hasn't said how he will fund the packages, which are due to selected employees by March. Adamec confirmed that one potential source is the state's tax revenues, which generated higher-than-projected returns this year.

The state stopped accepting applications to the buyout program Jan. 4, and applicants have until Friday to change their minds. The state Department of Budget and Management is charged with determining which applicants the state can afford to lose. The Washington Post first reported the number of state employees taking the buyout.

Only employees in the executive branch ?-- which largely consists of state agencies such as the Department of Business and Economic Development -- are eligible, excluding agency heads. Those ineligible for the buyout include state police, judges and commission members.

O'Malley expects to accept at least 1,000 -- or roughly 2 percent of all executive branch employees -- into the program, Adamec said. Executive branch employees account for 60 percent of all state personnel.

Selected employees will leave their jobs by Jan. 31 and cash in no later than March. The arrangement bars them from rejoining the state government for at least 18 months.

O'Malley says he plans to eliminate all positions left open by the buyouts. The governor must cut at least 500 executive branch jobs by June, as mandated in the fiscal 2011 budget.

A union representative for state employees applauded the program as a method to stave off layoffs.

Most of the buyout applicants likely are close to retirement, eligible for retirement or have another job, said Patrick Moran, director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' Maryland chapter.

"I don't think anyone else is walking away from a job in this day and age," he said.