County Councilman David Boschert plans to introduce legislation Monday night giving the County Council unprecedented power to make changes to the county budget.
Boschert, D-Crownsville, will introduce amendments to the Budget Enabling Act proposed by County Executive Robert R. Neall. The council will conduct a hearing on the bill Monday night.
Neall's bill would reopen the county budget process to strike a new budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. The bill also gives Neall power to lay off and furlough employees and cut wages. Boschert's bill would give the council authority to change Neall's proposed budget well beyond what it normally has.
Neall wants to reopen the budget process to cover a $20.8 million deficit brought on by cuts in state aid and declining revenue. He plans to deliver a revised budgetto the council Nov. 14.
A state law approved last month gives Neall and the council broad powers to reopen the budget process, cut union contracts and delete specific line items from the school budget --with the exception of teachers and educational supplies -- for the remainder of the fiscal year.
But Boschert and other council members say Neall's budget act gives the executive the power to ignore the council's wishes and veto any changes it makes to the budget. So Boschert will introduce amendments giving the council power to increase the county budget and to shift money between categories, powers the council doesn't have during the annual May budget process.
"This would give the council the right to review what's been done," said County Council attorney Barry Tate. "The council wants the authority to look at how he adjusts the budget."
At a press briefing yesterday, Boschert and Tate said the changes aren't a power struggle with Neall,but an effort to restore the balance of power in government. They said the amendment would give the council greater flexibility in dealing with the budget crisis.
"This is not a power play," Boschert said. "We're going to resolve this together."
But Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer, who drafted Neall's bill, said it gives the executive no more power than he has during the annual budget process.
"For the council to add or increase the budget amount would turn the county executive budget system on its head," Plymyer said. "It would give the County Council more power than the General Assembly has to review its budget. I think it would so violate the charter that we wouldhave to take a close look at it between now and Monday night."
Under current law, the council cannot add money to the departmental budget submitted by Neall. They can restore money trimmed from the education budget by the executive, provided they shift the money from other budget areas. It also has the power to cut from both budgets.
Plymyer said Neall's bill replicates that process.
"The county executive has not,nor does he intend to, disregard the budget process we have in the charter," Plymyer said. "The bill should reflect the normal budget process as much as possible, and the further you get away from it, the greater the risk." Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum,said he supports Boschert's amendment, but Councilwoman Diane Evans,R-Arnold, said it's unnecessary. Evans and Councilman Carl "Dutch" Holland, R-Pasadena, met with Neall yesterday.
"We have all the powers under the normal budget process," Evans said.
"To do otherwise, I think we would have to have a charter change. At this point, I'm not convinced we need any more power."