Faced with fiscal problems of their own, local government officials are asking Maryland lawmakers not to balance the state budget by cutting aid to the subdivisions.
The state's latest budget crisis, a deficit projected to fall between about $400 million and $450 million, could mean cuts of more than $100 million in local aid, according to preliminary plans under consideration by the Schaefer administration.
And, because seven of the state's 23 counties are expected to end their current fiscal year in the red even if they receive all state aid promised, local government officials fear cutbacks will jeopardize even more county budgets.
Without the financial assistance, counties will be forced to adopt "unacceptable compromises of necessary public services," Frank Casula, a Prince George's County councilman and president of the Maryland Association of Counties, told a group of lawmakers studying the state revenues.
Casula and the local officials went to Annapolis yesterday to ask state lawmakers to find other options to reduce the deficit. Several of them, including MACO leaders, threw their support behind a combination of spending cuts, a moratorium on new state programs and "revenue enhancements," a political euphemism for increased taxes.
The local officials generally agreed that if the state cuts aid to the counties, the General Assembly should authorize subdivisions to impose their own taxes and raise the 50 percent cap on the so-called "piggyback" tax, the amount a county can levy on an individual's personal income tax.
Montgomery County is the state's wealthiest subdivision but its budget already has undergone $185 million in cuts -- the biggest revenue gap among subdivisions in the state -- and may have to be trimmed another $15 million to $35 million if state aid is not forthcoming, said County Executive Neal Potter.
Similar sentiments came from Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, who said cuts in state aid will have to be passed on to local budgets.
"All of the alternatives mean cuts," Glendening said. "It's just a question of the distribution of cuts."
Baltimore legislative aide Henry Bogden said the city cannot absorb significant cuts in state aid and faces unique money problems not shared by other subdivisions.
Citing what he called the city's "negative growth," Bogden said Baltimore has been surviving on a fraction of the average state growth in revenue income over the past several years. Bogden also recommended that the state look for ways to increase revenues.
One of the few voices among local officials to oppose new taxes as a quick fix for the state's money woes was Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, a former Republican state delegate.
Neall suggested that state and local officials work closely together to alleviate state and local budget problems through cuts and a "reassignment of roles."
Neall also cautioned against raising taxes in areas that may not produce the desired revenues, particularly if the state's economic health does not recover. "I don't know how deep the well is," he said.