Schaefer Plan Called A 'Double Whammy'

February 02, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — The governor giveth and he taketh away. The catch is, the Carroll commissioners don't want any part of the giveth side of the equation.

Under the fiscal 1993 state budget proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer Thursday, scheduled increases in aid to Carroll would be reduced by $6.4 million for the year beginning July 1. The current county budget is about $112 million.

The catch is that the county could make up for all of that lost revenue if the General Assembly enacts legislation enabling counties to raise local income tax rates and the commissioners use that authority. By raising the "piggyback" tax from 50 percent to 60 percent of what the state collects, the county could generate an additional $7.3 million.

But the catch has a catch. The governor wants to divert 5percent of the piggyback increase to jurisdictions where individualswork, rather than where they live. Since about half of Carroll's work force commutes to other subdivisions, the county would lose about $1.7 million.

The end result if all the necessary legislation was passed and the entire scenario came true? Aid to Carroll would be reduced by $800,000 compared to what was anticipated under business-as-usual conditions.

Confusing? Yes, and it's only the beginning. Carroll legislators expect numerous proposals, adjustments and negotiations before a final budget is enacted.

Already, a smorgasbord of options are on the table:

* The governor's proposed budget, combining $480 million in tax increases with further cuts, and his no-new-tax "doomsday" scenario, which decimates social and health programs and several state agencies.

* A Republican plan proposing a balanced budget without tax increases.

* Several scenarios from House fiscal leaders.

Even though multimillion dollar losses in state aid could severely hinder the commissioners' effort to maintain services and employees, they say they oppose raising the local income tax rate.

"I'd welcome having it in my hip pocket, but that's probably where it will stay because it does represent a tax increase," said Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy. "It really penalizes a person from going out and diligently looking for a job."

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge calls theproposal a "double whammy," because it puts the burden on local elected officials to raise taxes while still reducing state aid.

Carroll legislators also oppose the plan.

"It's just another tax for the people," said Del. Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll.

Finksburg resident David A. Pyle Jr., a retired educator, said he doesn't object to increasing the piggyback tax "on principle" because the revenue would be raised and spent locally.

But he fears the recent movement toward smaller and more efficient government, spurred by declining revenue, could be reversed.

Carroll's two representatives on budget committees -- Democrat Del. Richard N. Dixon and Democrat Sen. CharlesH. Smelser -- say they don't put much stock in Schaefer's plan.

"It's too early to say anything," said Smelser. "There will be a lot of changes from the way the budget has worked before. I don't know what the bottom line will be. There are a lot of pieces to put together."

Dixon said that all mandated programs calling for automatic increases -- such as education aid and welfare -- are expected to be "seriously re-evaluated." The governor's plan spares a planned $184 million increase in mandated education aid -- about $6 million of which istargeted to Carroll.

So the commissioners must rely on their own budget director's estimates and wait for state action. Meanwhile, thelivelihoods of county employees and social program beneficiaries hang in the balance, and public school, community college and library officials brace for tough decisions.

Other aspects of the governor'sproposal that affect Carroll include:

* Eliminating the state's 25 percent contribution to the Resident Trooper Program, the county's main law enforcement branch. Carroll would lose about $600,000 of theapproximate $3 million cost. The county employs about 44 of the 66 troopers.

If the county paid 100 percent and maintained the state-run program, it also would have to pay 23 percent of the administrative costs. That new wrinkle is a recommendation from a governor's commission.

* $5.4 million in appropriations for five capital projects:

$1.96 million for the $4 million Mechanicsville Elementary expansion and renovation; $1.85 million for a Springfield Hospital Center steam distribution system; $250,000 for development of a sewer system to serve about 58 homes in Pleasant Valley; and $202,000 for a $400,000 roof replacement project at Westminster High.

* Delaying plans,for a second consecutive year, for construction of a Public Safety Training Center on a 720-acre Sykesville site. The capital project will receive $1.12 million to begin designing utilities and repairing and equipping buildings on Springfield Hospital Center grounds.

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