County Executive Charles I. Ecker is concerned that the state appears to be forcing the county to raise taxes in order to fund needed programs.
"It looks like (Gov. William Donald Schaefer) is taking away aid and giving us the authority to tax," Ecker said Friday. "That'snot right."
Ecker was referring to Schaefer's speech before the legislature Thursday. In that speech, the governor proposed allowing counties and Baltimore to raise the maximum of so-called "piggyback" income taxes from 50 percent to 60 percent to offset cuts in state aid.
Local income taxes are called piggyback because they represent a percentage of a person's state income tax bill.
Schaefer also proposed that the state redistribute 5 percent of the first 50 percent on the basis of where a person works, not where the wage earner lives.
The county receives $80 million a year now from a 50 percent piggyback tax. Raising the ceiling to 60 percent would generate another $16 million, said county budget administrator Raymond S. Wacks.
Until he reads the wording on the 5 percent provision, he has no idea how to computeit, Wacks said. Computed one way, the amount is $4 million, computedanother, it is $8 million.
Regardless, Ecker thinks it means the county would lose money. Many residents work in neighboring Anne Arundel County at Westinghouse or the National Security Agency.
Ecker wonders what rule would apply to residents who work in Washington. Ifthe county keeps the money, the 5 percent provision could balance out, Ecker said. If not, the loss could be even more.
Ecker was particularly disturbed that Schaefer did not address cuts that will come out of this fiscal year's budget -- $8.2 million in Howard County -- unless the legislature decides otherwise.
It may not.
State Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-14, said he believes Ecker is "braced for one more jolt" because the state has "done about all we can."
"I've been working with him to make sure the county can absorb the cuts,"McCabe said.
State Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-13, expressed similarfeelings. "Something is definitely coming back" to the state from the county, he said. "I hope we can work on it so that it's not the whole $8.2 million."
As for the governor's proposals, Yeager said it appears to him that they are "not too practical -- there's a little bit for everybody."
Yeager was especially concerned with a proposalto spend up to $43 million to implement a "schools for success" concept. "It's a good concept, and perhaps it's needed, but it doesn't stand up when we're having problems funding schools already in the system," Yeager said.
In Howard County, for example, the school systemwill have to slash its budget $5 million if the $8.2 million in cutsfor this fiscal year are imposed. Such a cut can only result in teacher layoffs, Ecker said.
McCabe said he thought Schaefer was relatively responsible in his speech in that he laid out a plan. "He proposes, the legislature disposes," McCabe said. "I don't think he duckedthe issue. He said it's up to you -- the legislature -- to make the hard choices."
Regardless, McCabe said he was particularly concerned about levying additional burdens on taxpayers. "I am very leery ofthe sales tax proposals. They could have a real dampening effect on the economy."
Yeager agreed. "Raising taxes is the worst thing youcan do in a down economy," he said.
Like McCabe, Delegate Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, said Schaefer "showed strong leadership" by coming forth with proposals that the legislature can respond to. "I'm not ready to comment on specific proposals yet, but I was pretty impressed. It's up to us now."
As for the county's deficit, Thomas said the $8.2 million figure has never been realistic. "The county knew thatand is working at what additional cuts can be made," she said.
House Minority Whip Robert L. Kittleman, R-14B, said he had "expected some balance" from Schaefer's address. "I didn't think it would be allone way. He did very little to reduce the budget."
"It's a brokenrecord," Delegate Martin G. Madden, R-13B, said. "The same solution -- raise taxes. Nothing done with the spending side of the equation. Maryland taxpayers should lose sleep for the next 90 days. If this goes through, it's going to be a nightmare."
Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, said Schaefer "makes it so easy sometimes -- raise taxesand continue spending." Flanagan said it was ridiculous for Schaeferto propose a Baltimore convention center "when we can't even pay forwhat we have now."
Flanagan said the GOP caucus is working on a budget-cutting proposal that "would be fair, equitable and not raise taxes."
The counties are taking a disproportionate share of the cuts, Flanagan said. "They are one-third of the budget, yet took two-thirds of the cuts."