No time to play wait and see

January 13, 1992

Usually Maryland's state-county budgeting process works. The governor submits his plan to the legislature and, around the end of March, state lawmakers make final budgeting decisions. That leaves at least a couple of weeks before the mayor and county executives submit their budgets to their councils. They can make adjustments for new infusions of money or last-minute cuts.

But these are not usual times. The recession has forced the state to make budget cuts in the middle of its fiscal year. And a big chunk of state savings is being realized by slashing money to local jurisdictions, which committed nine months ago to pay for salaries and services with this money.

So, with the General Assembly vacillating on how to make the next round of cuts, Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden did the right thing by announcing furloughs and cuts in spending on government services even before the legislature formally acts. Certainly Hayden's move has shaken up county employees, who may well get five fewer days of pay this year. So, too, residents, for whom service cuts are anathema. But with the fiscal year ending on June 30, a wait-and-see-what-the-legislature-does approach would be shortsighted.

In the worst-case scenario, lawmakers will acquiesce to Gov. William Donald Schaefer's suggestion -- and Baltimore County will lose $23.5 million more this fiscal year. If that happens, the county is poised to roll with the legislative punches: the combined savings from furloughs and budget cuts will total $23.5 million. But if the legislature obviates Schaefer's cuts by enacting new taxes or making other kinds of state budget cuts, then Hayden is off the hook and can restore all or part of the cuts and furlough days.

It is not an easy or politically enviable task to tell people they won't be paid as much as they expected or to cut services residents obviously expect. But Hayden's approach -- like that of his counterparts, Robert Neall in Anne Arundel County, Eileen Rehrmann in Harford County and Charles Ecker in Howard -- is the kind of pro-active leadership local government needs to hang on through the recession.

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