Arundel Politicians Mull Assembly's Cut In Local Aid

October 14, 1991|By Elise Armacost and John A. Morris | Elise Armacost and John A. Morris,Staff writers

Anne Arundel lawmakers spent the weekend trying to figure out what they did Friday night when they passed a plan to reduce the state budget deficit by slashing aid to local governments.

Despite some county leaders' pleas for more time, the General Assembly took $68.3 million from Baltimore and the 23 counties -- money used to pay workers' salaries and keep police cars on the streets and ballparks open. AnneArundel lost $7.9 million, on top of an earlier $9.3 million cut.

"The majority of us took what we thought were painful but necessary steps to ensure Maryland's income and expenditures were balanced,"said Sen. Gerald W.Winegrad, D-Annapolis, who voted in favor of the plan.

However, even those who supported the plan were still uncertain yesterday about its effect on Anne Arundel. Particularly troubling, they say, is that until June 1992, local governments have the right to cut education, library and community college spending.

Ordinarily, state law prohibits counties from making cuts to these budgets once an annual spending plan has been approved. However, County Executive Robert R. Neall asked the legislature to give local governments the flexibility to cut these areas, which account for a huge portion of county budgets.

Among the opponents of the Neall amendment wereWinegrad and Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Brooklyn Park. Cadden, who voted against the entire package, said, "I wasn't sure how it would affect education in Anne Arundel County, and I'm still not sure."

Winegrad objected to taking educational matters out of the hands of the experts. "The Board of Education is better able to deal with the education functions of the school system," he said.

Already, education leaders are protesting. Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne ArundelCouncil of PTAs, said her group will sponsor a protest march Tuesdayafternoon to coincide with a meeting between the Board of Education,County Council and Neall.

"We want to keep politics out of education and leave education to educators," Roeding said.

But other lawmakers say it is unfair to take so much money from local governments without giving them the flexibility to make cuts in their biggest, most expensive departments. Education accounts for 57 percent of Anne Arundel's budget.

"It's not fair for us to take the money away and then not give the executives or the county commissioners the freedom to do as they think is necessary to make it all work," said Delegate John Astle, D-Annapolis.

Delegate Philip Bissett, R-Mayo, said he had no problems supporting Neall's amendment because, as he understands it, it prohibits cuts in classroom instruction. Teachers may be asked to take a 4 percent pay cut -- a sacrifice Neall wants all countyworkers to make. But unlike other county workers, teachers could notbe forced to accept concessions or be laid off, he said.

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, predicted that lawmakers would have to make further adjustments to the deficit reduction plan this week because it was rushed through before county and school leaders could evaluate the impact.

"The legislature wasn't willing to slow down," Jimeno said. "I think that was our biggest mistake."

Some felt it was wrong to target local governments at all before a thorough examination of waste at the state level was complete.

"I don't think allthe fat has been cut," Cadden said. "Some areas of the state have been untouchable so far."

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