Although most of the county's state legislative delegation voted last week against cutting local aid $4.1 million, they favored giving County Executive Charles I. Ecker all the tools he needs to do the job.
In their eyes, an amendment requested by Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall did just that. The amendment allowed county executives to cut from every part of their budgets, including funds for education, courts, sheriffs, corrections and the state's attorney's office.
"I was against the bill," said state Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-District 14. "What was at issue was $80 million the governor had set aside" from the $460 million he was forced to cut from the state budget.
Yeager said the governor initially planned to cover the $80 million part of the deficit by slashing aid to the poor and the infirm. What the legislature proposed instead, was that the money be restored to those programs and that state aid to counties be cut instead.
"Ibelieved that when all was said and done, the governor would find moneys for those programs," said Yeager, who was against the county cuts from the start.
Yeager said he was persuaded to vote for the Neall amendment after listening to three hours of testimony from county executives.
"Neall said, 'If this passes, give me the tools to do the job,' and I asked him, 'What tools?' " Yeager said. "He said, 'Give me authority to go into the entire budget, not just 25 percent of it.' "
Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, found that argument persuasive as well.
"I had planned to vote against the bill regardless," he said, "because I felt (the state) had not faced up to belt-tightening, and this was a way of passing the buck to local jurisdictions."
Flanagan said he felt passage of the Neall amendment sent a message to school boards that "education is going to have to tighten its belt like the rest of county government, and the cuts are going to have to be spread throughout."
House minority whip Robert H. Kittleman, R-14B, voted against both the bill and the amendment, saying, "I'm mad about it for a whole lot of reasons."
Kittleman believes Howard County has "done more than our share" to cut expenses and is being penalized by a cap on cuts in state aid.
The cap, which limitslocal cuts to $10 million, benefits Montgomery and Baltimore counties, Kittleman said, and means that Howard takes an unproportionate burden.
Kittleman said he was especially angered by the fact that a substitute proposal by House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-9, was voted down without debate when every other proposal was debated. The Sauerbrey proposal would have restored aid to the poor, but sent the $68 million in county cuts back to the governor for renegotiation.
"We need to put our own house in order in the state before we tell everybody else how to do it," Kittleman said. "There is more fat now in state government than county government. There were all kinds of places we could have cut."
Delegate Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, agrees with Kittleman that the crisis "is deeper than anyone thought and getting worse all the time." So much worse, Thomas believes, that another $100 million shortfall will be announced soon.
"This is not a recession," she said. "It's a depression. We can't even find the corner yet, much less turn it."
Delegate John S. Morgan, R-13B, who voted against the bill, said state government was being irresponsible by forcing legislators to make a choice between the governor's package and the local package. "It's hard for me to defend what we're doing down here," he said.
"This is exactly why the community has lost trust in government," he said. "This should have been taken care of last spring."
Delegate Martin G. Madden, R-13B, was the only representative who initially planned to vote for the bill. He changed his mind when the Neall amendment placed the the school budget in jeopardy.