If it is indeed true that in politics symbols are more important than substance, then the Baltimore County Council took a significant step when every one of its members refused to accept a scheduled pay raise and decided instead to contribute the money to the county's beleaguered General Fund.
Granted, $1,800 per council member amounts, all told, to only $12,600 -- hardly what anyone would call big money. But it is taxpayers' money nonetheless -- taxpayers who are increasingly cynical about government's ability to properly manage it at all. So it is no surprise that County Executive Roger Hayden, whose administration could use a jolt of populist support, has jumped on the bandwagon -- declaring that he, too, will forgo the $14,000 raise scheduled to effect for him in December. Instead, Hayden says he will take only the percentage increase that other county workers get. The remainder will go into the General Fund.
In reality, Hayden's contribution plus that of the council doesn't amount to much in a $1 billion budget -- particularly in light of the pending $18 million cut in state aid. Nonetheless, in a time when budgets are tight and voters are deeply distrustful of politicians, refusing to take a raise is a responsible and responsive gesture.