Lawmakers facing unpleasant alternatives Legislators must cut $450 million more from budget.

October 11, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Del. Nancy Kopp feels torn.

She must decide between cutting out programs that help the poor and cutting out money that helps Montgomery County, her home.

On the one hand, Kopp has spent 20 years fighting for ways to help disabled people and poor families. Yet, she also supports education and does not relish cuts that would make it harder for counties to pay for school programs.

"I will not be sleeping tonight," she said last night. "I will be tossing and turning. I cannot tell you how I will vote but, whichever way I vote, it will be with a heavy heart."

In State House halls and corridors yesterday, worried legislators wondered how they should chop $450 million from an already lean budget.

They asked, should they approve a compromise plan that would make deeper cuts in state aid to local governments but would restore some money to programs that serve the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the drug-addicted?

Or should they turn down that proposal and risk the governor putting his original budget-balancing plan into effect?

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's proposal would hurt social programs, the state police and Med-Evac emergency helicopter service, but would leave county governments in somewhat better shape than the compromise.

Leaders of the state Senate and House of Delegates hammered out the compromise with Schaefer this week. The General Assembly was expected to vote on the plan today.

Most lawmakers are predicting a close vote.

Del. Leon Albin, D-Balto. Co., said he didn't know how he would vote.

Some constituents want him to vote down the compromise, which would take an additional $10 million from his county.

Yet Albin also believes "you can't turn your back and devastate [poor] families."

It's a difficult situation, he said, since many people don't like budget cuts but don't want to raise taxes to avoid the cuts either.

"Everybody wants everything, and you're damned if you do and damned if you don't," Albin said.

County governments say they cannot afford to lose any more state aid, since they cannot raise property taxes until next year.

Yesterday, Howard County Executive Charles Ecker traveled to Annapolis to talk with legislators about his budget problems.

Ecker, a Republican, noted that he had to raise property taxes and cut his budget by 12 percent since taking office less than a year ago.

He said he did not know how he would cope if he lost even more state aid, but he knew that layoffs, furloughs and reductions in services would have to be considered.

"They're [elected officials] going to have to redefine what government is" and what it should pay for, Ecker said. "There's a general feeling that people are dissatisfied with government, that government has no credibility."

Some citizens apparently believe "they've just been paying, paying, paying, and they're tired of it. They haven't seen results," Ecker said.

"Everyone who runs for president run against government," said Del. Charles J. Ryan, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Candidates spread the message that government is bad, he said.

In the middle of a recession, the middle class may be less interested in paying for services that they personally do not use.

"The middle class pays the taxes, and they are the least recipients" of services, said Ryan, D-Prince George's. "Most of the government programs are designed to benefit those among us who have the most problems."

Baltimore lawmakers say the city loses no matter which way today's votes on the budget plans go.

Under the governor's original plan, the city would be faced with greater homelessness and poverty because the General Public Assistance program would be abolished. Most of those recipients, "the poorest of the poor," live in Baltimore, city officials said.

Yet the city cannot afford to lose any more state aid, as the compromise plan calls for.

"It's a bad deal for us, no matter what. This [compromise] is less bad," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City.

The cuts in the suburbs might make others come around to the city's point of view -- that taxes must be raised and made more equitable.

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