How To Compensate For Budget Difficulties Is Taxing Issue

THE WAY IT IS

'Save Yourtroopers' Disguises Big Picture

October 20, 1991|By Jeff Griffith

"Save Your Troopers."

The banner hangs on the front of the 7-Eleven at Route 140 and Center Street in Westminster. Of all the signs ofpublic concern over the recent round of state budget cuts, this signmay be the most telling symbol of concern among citizens.

No banners have proclaimed "Save Your Schools." No banners have urged "Save Your Homeless."

Not until the governor suggested eliminating 83 uniformed troopers did the public begin to take notice. Somecritics charge the cut was political.

Of course it was. The governor wanted to get the legislature's attention. He certainly got 7-Eleven's attention.

The troopers have been spared, for the time being. So have the Med-Evac choppers. And, closer to home, the Youth Service Bureau and the Rape Crisis Center. But other cuts which may have less visible impact are in the wind.

Last week, a call to Carroll'sHuman Services Programs on behalf of a family whose electricity was about to be cut off revealed that HSP's energy assistance fund is just about empty. Fortunately, a sympathetic BG & E official was able toarrange a short-term reprieve.

Seniors, persons on limited incomes, the disabled, who knows how many of your friends and neighbors, can expect a cold winter. No banners proclaim "Save Your Seniors."

The latest estimates suggest that Carroll County government will take another $2.6 million hit. That means further cuts in schools, parks, roads, libraries, senior centers, you name it.

The final figures aren't in. An across-the-board 5 percent cut will probably be enough to absorb this round of reductions, according to the county's Office of Management and Budget. The county government will try to avoid layoffs, at least for now. Nobody knows what will happen in January. Actually, nobody is completely certain what will happen tomorrow.

At the Health Department, the future of addictions treatment programs is uncertain. Air quality monitoring and restaurant inspections may be discontinued. Who knows what else will fall?

Why is all of this happening? The mean-spiritedness of Reaganomics is coming home to roost.Trickle down has trickled down.

At the heart of all of this chaosis an enormous irony: Many of those who complain the loudest are thesame folk who made Ronald Reagan the most popular president in history. When the federal government abandoned education, aging, environment, social services and revenue sharing, the Reaganauts cheered.

To make up the resultant deficits, governors and county commissioners looked to expanding local tax bases to fund essential programs. As federal dollars disappeared, Carroll County replaced them with local, growth-fueled dollars.

But the growth stopped, smothered by the most enormous federal deficit in history -- the one created by the most popular president. Voodoo economics stuck a pin in the national economy, and Maryland, though suffering much less that most states, feels the deep wound. And Carroll County, one of the most effectively managed counties in the nation (just ask Standard & Poor's opinion) also feels the sting.

The touted "safety net" has failed. The victims will be your neighbors who rely on Carroll Hospice and Target, programsthat a 5 percent hit could wound mortally. "Save Your Neighbor."

Another irony: Just one year ago, the anti-Schaeferites charged the governor with being a big spender. Now they complain that he has recommended cuts in their favorite programs.

What's the answer? Not Band-Aids, like giving the local governments the ability to cut boards of education. Our commissioners, for all their good intentions, are simply not qualified to make the required judgments.

The legislaturelacks the courage to attempt the solution. Maryland's oppressive, regressive tax structure needs complete reform. That will be a beginning.

The rest of the solution is rooted in the national economy, which is unlikely to recover until the egocentric me-ism of Reaganomics runs its course. Americans don't trust their government partly because Reagan taught them not to, but mostly because they don't trust themselves.

Things will get worse. Eventually, the legacy of voodoo economics, of robbing the middle class to benefit the rich, will fade.

Then we will see still more banners.

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