Local officials from around Maryland told state legislators today that a new round of cuts in their state aid will wreak havoc in programs back home.
"The state is trying to balance its budget problem by trying to transfer the problem to local governments," said Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening. "This will mean cuts in the classroom. It's people out on the street doing their jobs."
Prince George's County would lose an additional $10 million in state aide, on top of $17.5 million already cut by Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget-balancing program. Across the state, local governments are looking at an additional cut of $68.3 million.
Glendening repeated his call for more state taxes and said the legislature was perpetuating a "charade" by dealing with the budget crisis with stop-gap measures.
"I believe you were elected to lead," Glendening said.
The latest proposal, which faces a vote in the General Assembly today, has given lawmakers a dilemma.
Del. Nancy K. Kopp is torn 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 low income families. Yet, she also supports education and does not relish cuts in county school programs.
"I will not be sleeping tonight," she said yesterday. "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, worried legislators are wondering how they should chop $450 million from an already lean budget.
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?
Schaefer's proposal would hurt social programs, the state police and Med-Evac emergency helicopter service, but would leave county governments in 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.
Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker told lawmakers today that his county has already trimmed fat and raised property taxes.
"We needed some belt-tightening," Ecker said. "If we have to tighten it any more, it will sever us."
Ecker, a Republican, noted that he has 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 Jr., 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. "That's what you have to do to make people in the counties understand," Hoffman said.
"I told the city delegation to hold their noses and vote for it," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Drastic cuts in Baltimore County's school budget will be absorbed in cuts school maintenance and supplies, said school spokesman Richard Bavaria.
The system is committed to keeping class sizes consistent, not increasing them to save on personnel costs, Bavaria said. But next year, parents can expect to see their children in dirtier schools with fewer workbooks and computer disks available, less paper and a general shortage of basic materials.