A power struggle between the Anne Arundel county executive and the County Council over reopening the county budget erupted in a sometimes testy marathon meeting that drew 400 people, but the fight didn't end there.
The council last night passed an amended bill, over County Executive Robert R. Neall's objections, that would allow it to shift money among categories, when Neall reopens the county budget to counter the loss of $20.8 million in state aid. The council could possibly restore cuts made by the executive.
The council does not have that power during the normal budget process each spring.
The executive contended that the bill may not be legal under the County Charter because it could give the council the power to increase the budget.
Neall said he will consult his legal staff before taking any action. He said he had several alternatives, including vetoing the bill or signing it into law with the understanding that if the council exceeded its power, he could use the line-item veto.
"We'll just have to wait for the dust to settle," Neall said.
About 400 people -- some leaning against the walls, others kneeling on the floor -- packed the council chambers for the vote that came after nearly five hours of heated debate. School administrators and teachers came in support of the council, whom they seemed to trust more than Neall to make the cuts.
Last month, the state legislature approved a bill, dubbed the Neall amendment, that would allow the executive and the council to reopen deliberations on the $616.6 million fiscal 1992 budget and make additional cuts. School officials decried the measure, saying it gave the executive unprecedented power over the education budget.
The Neall administration said the legislative action was necessary because, following several rounds of budget cuts by the state, the county must make up for a reduction of $20.8 million in state aid.
Councilman David G. Boschert, D-4th, the author of the amended bill, and four of his colleagues argued that the emergency bill as submitted by Neall would have given the executive powers, such as the power to veto line items, he normally would not have during the budget process.
Neall said the original bill gave him no more power than normal. But, he contended, the amended bill does give the council powers it normally would not have, increasing the potential of lawsuits against the county.
County Attorney Steve Beard told the council that the amendments were inconsistent with the County Charter. Beard said it was for that reason Neall had crafted the bill to conform as closely as possible with the charter.
His bill is necessary, Neall said, because a provision originally included in the charter, giving the executive the power to reopen the budget process, was inadvertently deleted in 1988.
"There was never an intention to give the county executive power he doesn't have during the regular budget process," said David A. Plymyer, assistant county attorney. "It was never intended to usurp the powers of the council."
Testimony during the long public hearing frequently became heated among council members and representatives of the administration.
"The administration is totally opposed to the so-called Boschert amendment," budget officer Dennis Parkinson said. "This [bill] would create the only body in the state that would possess such power. The council wants the power to increase the county executive's budget."
But Boschert argued that the council was not out to increase Neall's budget. He said the council only had serious concerns that the original bill would leave it out of the budget process, giving Neall unchecked authority to violate layoff procedures or tap county employee pension funds to use for programs.
Neall said several things had been accomplished during the public hearing. "I think [the council] made it clear there will be no pension raid, no interfund borrowing, no increasing of line items. We shouldn't have anyone up here asking to put money back into the budget."