The recession and its disastrous effects on Maryland's pocketbook have opened the door to new approaches, agendas and political alliances. A case in point is the partnership budding among Baltimore city Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter and Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening.
This troika, looking after common interests, is attempting to draft a package of tax proposals for submission to the General Assembly to offset anticipated cuts in state allocations to local governments. The aim is to prevent crippling reductions in local services and to protect the existing aid to education program.
What qualifies as remarkable is the regional approach to problem-solving between players more commonly on opposing sides. Montgomery, in recent years, has had little truck with initiatives aimed at helping Baltimore city. Conversely, tax policies beneficial to the wealthy Washington suburbs have had little support among legislators in poor Baltimore.
This recession has acted as an equalizer. Montgomery, still one of the richest counties in the nation, faces enormous fiscal pressures that threaten the residents' high quality of life. Its fiscal hole is even worse than the city's. Prince George's, already beset by painful cutbacks made last fall, is feeling the financial strain in many ways that are more similar to Baltimore city than to Montgomery. This budget dilemma has brought leaders of the three jurisdictions together.
The implications of this alliance could be far-reaching. A tax proposal with three of the heaviest voting blocs in the General Assembly behind it could break the ice on raising taxes this session. So far, at least, an agreement seems possible. The trio agrees on what it wants and how to achieve it -- via a broadened state sales tax. "Obviously, we're all looking for relief in some form now, so we're trying to find common ground," Glendening said. "We've passed the psychological barrier."
This is an important first step. It not only could alleviate the economic pain afflicting virtually every corner of the metropolitan area, but it could also lead to new interjurisdictional cooperation. That is essential in an area where artificial political boundary lines are increasingly ignored by citizens who think of the entire Baltimore-Washington region as their home.