Campaign promises become harder to keep as resources dwindle

October 11, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun Tom Bowman of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- His last piece of 1990 campaign literature invited people to vote against higher taxes by making him their voice in the legislature.

The voters complied and freshman Delegate Martin G. Madden, R-Howard and Prince George's, led his incumbent opponents by more than 3,000 votes.

Now, in the midst of a grinding budget crisis that persuades some of the need for new or higher taxes, Mr. Madden says that his campaign resolve is even stronger.

"I believe in promises," he says. "Promises, unlike records, are not made to be broken."

So, as legislative leaders and Gov. William Donald Schaefer wrestle with a budget which is already $450 million out of balance, Mr. Madden stands with those in the General Assembly who insist that the most urgent needs can be met with the resources at hand.

Today, legislators will find themselves forced to choose between painful alternatives: They can vote for the governor's initial proposal to fire more than 1,700 state employees and make deep cuts in social programs or they can choose a compromise that would cut an additional $68.3 million in aid to local governments.

The second option, which is being supported by the legislative leadership, is made somewhat more palatable because the cuts would be for only one year.

Mr. Madden said that in some ways, he is more conservative in regard to budget matters than when he arrived in Annapolis in January. At the same time, he said, keeping campaign commitments is not inconsistent with sympathy and understanding.

"We make promises when we formulate the budget," he says. "And it does pain me when we go back and undo what we did by approving these budget cuts. We made $450 million worth of promises we aren't going to be able to keep. The lesson to be learned is that we have to err on the conservative side."

Nevertheless, he said, he has been touched by the demonstrators who show up in Annapolis every day to petition for benefits and services which have been slashed or dropped entirely in the effort to balance the state's budget without a tax increase.

"I saw a lot of different types of people out there on the steps. They did affect me," he said.

Still, Mr. Madden "will not budge" on the issue of higher sales or income taxes. And he is supporting a plan that would save threatened state police jobs and helicopter rescue service by cutting aid to counties such as his own.

"This is $4.1 million out of Howard County's hide," he said. "I'm willing to support that because, in government, you have to set priorities. Our first priority is protection of our citizens. That means getting the police back on the streets and the helicopters in the air."

But in addition, he said, "Society does have an obligation to take care of the poorest among us."

Toward that end, he noted that part of the money taken from the counties will restore aid to the poorest of Marylanders who now receive assistance under the General Public Assistance welfare program.

"It's not an easy vote to take the money from Howard and see it go to Baltimore," Mr. Madden said. "But we do owe something to people in society. The demonstrations did have an influence. I'm not making the politically popular vote here."

Howard County has cut its work force by 200 -- 40 filled positions, 160 unfilled positions. It has raised property taxes by 14 cents per $100 of assessed value -- and would face a tax increase of about 8 cents more if it sought to recover the $4.1 million now targeted by the state.

Most county governments appear as unwilling to raise taxes now as does the state legislature.

"The little guys, the people who pay taxes religiously, don't always march on the capital," says Delegate Richard La Vay, R-Montgomery.

"In politics, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but I don't think we can do squeaky wheel politics any more."

Protesters are not convinced that day has arrived, however.

Yesterday, the shift of budget cuts toward the counties brought a new group of protesters to the State House steps. State troopers in their crisp uniforms were replaced by high school students in faded jeans and Baltimore city health workers in white lab coats.

Chanting "No sports, no school!" several dozen Arundel Senior High School students opposed cuts that might eliminate high school sports programs.

The students were taking over from another team of demonstrators who had spent the night on the State House steps.

Among them was Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

"We were here," Mrs. Clarke said, "to lend support to the legislature, for a show of solidarity. They didn't make the nightmare they're trying to wake up from. We cannot in local government bear the impact of this depression. We've already born it locally to an extraordinary degree.

L "Make a bigger pie," she urged. "Make it fair. Make it now."

Delegate Madden disagrees with that approach -- and he believes his constituents disagree.

With a commitment to keeping that trust, Mr. Madden says that the only new tax he supports is a developmental impact fee in his county that would be imposed on every new house.

"The only tax increase I would consider is a gasoline tax if I felt it was necessary to put needed [roads] in our area," he said.

"Government," Mr. Madden says, "should live within its resources. In the long run we help everybody, those who receive and those who pay, by doing so."

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