This is the big game: Carroll County vs. State of Maryland.
Lining up for Carroll are Commissioners Donald Dell, Elmer Lippy and JuliaGouge, with their budget advisers on the sideline.
For the State, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly, with Comptroller Louis Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille Maurer onthe sideline.
The contest would appear to be a bit of a mismatch,to say the least. And it's a game the locals didn't want to play.
On the field, a referee's whistle: Kick-off time.
The Carroll team came into the game having grappled with its own red ink, and, aftermaking some difficult decisions, balanced the county budget.
While the capital budget was hit hard -- a 40 percent reduction from the prior year -- no major services were eliminated and no employee layoffs were needed. And most of all, no new taxes.
But the State team come into the big game less prepared. Having spent several hundred million dollars from prior years' surpluses, Coach Schaefer and his legislative players could not agree on a comprehensive budget for fiscal1992.
The coach wanted to increase taxes to help finance programsand avoid a deficit. The players had their own playbook with no "revenue enhancements."
All both sides could do, it seemed, was argue,rant and rave.
Flag on the play. Fifteen-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
So, shortly after an uneasy compromise was approved just before the General Assembly session ended in April, it was clear the state would have a deficit regardless. But the players decided to take a timeout anyway.
As the months passed, the red ink grew. Today, the deficit is pegged at $450,000,000 -- a lot of goose eggs. It could go higher.
Flag on the play. Five-yard penalty for delay of game.
The coach and his advisers decided they could not waitfor the players to return. So the three took the field alone.
Thenew game plan fired police, reduced life-saving Medevac service, eliminated social programs for low-income people and zapped drug, alcohol, youth and rape assistance. In essence, human needs were trampled on.
Flag on the play. Fifteen-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.
State aid to counties was axed. Carroll's loss was $2.2 million.
The Carroll team complained that its territory was being encroached upon by the State.
Flag on the play. Five-yard penalty for being offside.
The fans -- make that spectators -- screamed. The players returned to the field. They complained the coach wasn't allowed to play the game alone.
They brought a new playbook that restored large portions of the human programs. But at the same time, hit Carroll for yet another $2.1 million in cuts, for a total of $4.366 millionin lost state aid.
The Carroll squad cried foul: Piling on isn't allowed.
Flag on the play. Fifteen-yard penalty for a late hit.
But the State brings in its big guns as the final seconds tick away.House and Senate leaders appear to have reached a compromise game plan -- one with which even the coach can live.
The State drives toward the goal line. A pass is lofted into the air and several receivers are wide open in the end zone. The offensive line is holding off the defense.
Touchdown. Final: State over Carroll, 7-0.
Now the Carroll team must work on a new game plan for the future. It will haveto pare down further and become leaner.
But perhaps it's time forsome revenue enhancements:
* A Carroll County lottery? Donald, Elmer and Julia could broadcast the drawings at the end of the weeknight news on Prestige Cablevision Channel 3.
* Employees bring homemade goodies to monthly bake sales at the County Office Building.
* The commissioners work an agreement with a local bank to offer citizens MasterCard and VISA affinity cards, which provide the county with revenues through a small percentage of credit charges.