Local officials from all over Maryland told state legislators today that a new round of cuts in their state aid will wreak havoc on programs back home.
"The state is trying to balance its budget problem by trying to transfer the problem to local governments," Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening said at a jammed public hearing in Annapolis. "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 aid, on top of $17.5 million already cut by Gov. William Donald Schaefer's $450 million budget-balancing program. Local governments statewide are looking at an additional cut of $68.3 million if the latest proposal is approved.
Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden said he was unhappy with the latest cuts to local government -- which includes a $10 million cut for his county -- but said he was prepared to weather another round of reductions before considering tax increases.
"The people of Baltimore County have told me they do not support tax increases until they feel government is doing its job to run most efficiently," Hayden said. "We have to make people believe there is a need."
Several local leaders urged legislators to delay today's vote to allow time for more discussion.
"What you have here is turmoil. What you have here is chaos," said Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall.
The latest proposal, which faces a vote in the General Assembly today, is a dilemma for lawmakers.
Del. Nancy K. Kopp said she is torn between cutting out programs that help the poor and cutting out money that helps Montgomery County, her home.
Kopp has spent 20 years fighting for ways to help the disabled and low income families. Yet she also supports education and does not relish cuts in county school programs.
"I cannot tell you how I will vote but, whichever way I vote, it will be with a heavy heart," she said.
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 reject 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.
Senate and House of Delegates leaders negotiated the compromise with Schaefer this week.
Lawmakers predicted today's vote would be close.
Del. Leon Albin, D-Balto. Co., said he didn't know how he would vote.
"Everybody wants everything, and you're damned if you do and damned if you don't," Albin said.
County governments say they can't afford to lose any more state aid, since they can't raise property taxes until next year.
Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker told lawmakers today that his county already has 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, said 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.
Some citizens apparently believe "they've just been paying, paying, paying, and they're tired of it. They haven't seen results," Ecker said.
Del. Charles J. Ryan Jr., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that in the midst of a recession, the middle class may be less interested in paying for services that it doesn't 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."
Hundreds of protesters packed the hearing room today, a reminder that many social programs will be slashed in either the governor's or legislature's plans.
Baltimore lawmakers say the city loses no matter which way today's votes on the budget plan 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 of 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.