General Assembly Session Reaches Halfway Point

County Legislators Committed Cuts, Not Taxes

February 27, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — Carroll legislators on General Assembly budget committees say they remain committed to cutting costs in next year's budget, rather than raising taxes, even if it means reducing aid to deficit-ridden local governments.

The latest proposal from Gov. William Donald Schaefer to legislators calls for reducing education aid to counties by $45 million and the property tax grant the state returns to local jurisdictions by $26 million to compensate for a projected $115 million revenue shortfall in fiscal 1992.

The shortfall would be about $76 million greater if the legislature rejects -- as expected -- an administration proposal to transfer transportation money to the general treasury.

The 1992 budget reduction recommendations are "broad proposals" which haven't been dissected in detail, said Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary. The administration had not determined the impact the reductions wouldhave in each county, he said.

Any reductions would be considered as amendments to the proposed, no-growth, $11.6 billion operating budget, which does not assume any new tax measures or state employee layoffs.

"I wouldn't say I oppose" reductions in aid to local governments, said Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, a House Appropriations Committee member. "But I would have to take a hard look at it.

"Cutting back aid to local subdivisions will exacerbate the problems they have with deficits. The proper approach is to down-size state government. We have programs pertaining to health, safety and general welfare that are very crucial, but after that. . . ."

Dixon said layoffs and other reductions appear more likely than the legislature passing any type of new tax or tax increase.

"If the budget is cut, I don't see how we could avoid it," he said.

The administration introduced a plan to generate about $200 million in new tax revenue to address the shortfall. Legislators countered with a plan to cut aboutthe same amount in government programs, including local aid.

Sen.Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, a Senate Budget and Taxation Committee member, said Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City should be prepared for reductions in state aid. He opposes anynew tax measures, even for such items as cigarettes and snack foods.

"We're trying to get the locals to do the same as we're doing here," he said, referring to the freeze on state employees' salaries andpossible program cuts. "I'm going to balance the budget."

Education budgets are logical to cut at the local and state levels since they represent the largest expenditures in each jurisdiction, he said, emphasizing that counties should sharply restrict teacher salary increases. To soften the impact of a possible reduction, the Senate committee is considering waiving for one year a requirement that counties spend at least an equivalent amount per pupil as in the previous year,Smelser said.

"It will give locals more flexibility" in allocating money, he said.

Because revenue isn't projected to increase nextyear, county Budget Director Steven D. Powell has asked county agencies to submit 1992 budget plans reflecting a 2 percent decrease in spending compared to this year. Budget requests now exceed projected revenues by about $27 million. The Board of Education has requested $5.5 million more than the current year in county money.

County Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he is "positively dedicated" to avoiding a property tax increase. "But come May, depending on cuts from the state, we may be forced to do it to provide the necessities.

"I don't think anyone right now can pinpoint what we can expect simply because of the economy," said Dell.

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