Neall Urges More Authority For Counties

January 15, 1992|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

While other local government leaders pleaded for relief from state budget cuts yesterday, County Executive Robert R. Neall suggested thatperhaps the time has come for the counties to go it alone.

Speaking before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Neall acknowledged that a proposed $14.9 million reduction in state aid will hurt AnneArundel. "Quite frankly, (it's) going to hit us hard," he said.

But Neall said he would find a way to absorb the shortfall with minimal effect on services if he had to.

Other county executives told the powerful Budget and Taxation panel there is no way to preservethe quality of their services if the legislature approves the governor's plan to cut $142 million from the 23 counties and Baltimore City. Several, including Prince George's and Howard county executives Parris Glendening and Charles I. Ecker, urged lawmakers to raise revenueto help cover the shortfall and prevent another crisis in 1993.

"If it takes a tax increase, that's what it's going to have to take," Ecker said.

The senators did not get advice from Neall on revenue-raising measures.

"If I wanted to make those decisions, I would have run for the legislature," he said after the hearing.

Instead, Neall encouraged the panel to consider legislation that would give alllocal governments the maximum allowable taxing authority. Such a bill would have no effect in Anne Arundel, which already enjoys broad taxing authority, he said, but would help other jurisdictions that havebeen unable to persuade their state lawmakers to give them various ways of raising revenue.

Anne Arundel has 24 means of raising revenue through taxes, while some other counties have only six, Neall said. Counties like Howard -- which currently cannot impose a hotel and motel tax -- need such authority if they are going to be asked to do with less from the state, he said.

If the state cannot be as generous with local governments as it has been in the past, then the relationship between state and local governments should change, Neall said,noting that that may not be a bad thing.

"I think local government is mature enough and sophisticated enough to paddle its own canoe, if necessary," he said.

As far as fiscal 1992 is concerned, the counties need to know -- now -- how much paddling they have to do, Neall and other local leaders told the panel. Local governments cannot balance their books until they know how much more state aid they will lose.

"All I'm looking for is a number," Neall said.

In the pastyear, the General Assembly has cut about $230 million in state aid to local government. Anne Arundel has lost about $17 million, resulting in budget-tightening that has included wage concessions from all county employees.

Tom Paolino, president of the local teachers union, which has been critical of Neall, said he was pleased with the executive's presentation yesterday, though he thought he could have been stronger in objecting to the proposed cuts.

"Bobby went up there before and said, 'Hit me. I can handle it better than you can.' Now we're at the point where nobody can handle it," Paolino said.

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