What a difference a year makes.
After the Anne Arundel County Council passed County Executive O. James Lighthizer's final budget last year, that event was celebrated with popping champagne corks. Last week, when the council passed a $616.6 million budget, County Executive Robert R. Neall handed out bottles of Thunderbird, the elixir of Skid Row!
Things are not quite that bad in Anne Arundel's economy. But while the new budget avoided employee layoffs and significant cutbacks in service, it practiced strict parsimony. Because of stinginess and the increase in a wide variety of fees, the council was able to leave the property tax rate unchanged, as Mr. Neall had recommended. As a result, the county's tax of $2.46 per $100 of assessed value will be the second-lowest tax rate in the Baltimore metropolitan area. In a limited sense, that's good politics.
In a wider sense, however, the council made some unwise cuts that may bring marginal savings but are likely to do great harm to the cause of regional cooperation. We are specifically referring to council actions that virtually halved Anne Arundel County's contributions to Baltimore City-based cultural institutions.
As a result, Anne Arundel will give the Baltimore Symphony a paltry $25,000 during next fiscal year, instead of $50,000 recommended by Mr. Neall. The county's contribution to Center Stage will be $12,500, the same reduced amount that the Walters Art Gallery and the Maryland Academy of Science will get. In the end, by slashing the budgets of 12 city-based institutions, the county council saved a mere $64,750.
There may be no agreement about what Anne Arundel County's contribution should be to regional cultural institutions that make it possible for the county to sustain its claim of being the land of pleasant living. But certainly those region-wide assets must be worth more to Anne Arundel County than either the $190,000 Mr. Neall proposed or the $117,250 the council approved. Whichever way one looks at it, neither of those sums is more princely than the price of a modest home in Anne Arundel County today.