He never exactly said, "Read my lips," but Baltimore County's Roger Hayden was, from the start, a candidate tailored for those who had had their fill of tax-and-spenders. He campaigned on the platform of too much lavish spending and waste in local government. He assured voters that everything could be done for a lot less.
Now that the Baltimore County executive has a chance to prove it, however, he's vacillating. After being absent from a marathon tax debate in Annapolis earlier this year, Roger Hayden showed up Tuesday to announce his support for a tax increase. Not a property tax increase, mind you. But a tax increase nonetheless -- a nickel a gallon levy on gasoline.
Little wonder. Local income tax and property tax revenues continue to plunge, and the governor has taken a tremendous whack at local aid in the middle of the fiscal year. Worse, there's a good chance that more cuts to local aid will be made in the next few months.
There is also a political threat. Many lawmakers in Annapolis viewed Mr. Hayden's early absence in the tax debate, and the no-new-taxes posture of his fellow Baltimore County Republicans, as a cop-out that would have given Baltimore County the benefits of a tax increase while letting others take the political heat from voters. The repercussions of that animus could play out in the way formulas dividing up state revenue are hammered out, or in the way other funds, like money for parkland, are doled out. Already, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has been pushing for new taxes for a year, is sitting on money Mr. Hayden wants for a badly needed new school in Jacksonville.
The bottom line is that the man who said that he could lop off the fat and that citizens would feel no pain, is feeling the squeeze. He has been quietly cutting into essential services to balance the budget -- reducing the number of police cars, for instance, and the size of fire crews. Basic services are threatened. Yet it is now clear that without new sources of revenue, the quality of life in Baltimore County will be compromised.
No one, least of all Mr. Hayden, wants to say the T-word. But basic services have to be maintained. Mr. Hayden, if he is to be responsive to the needs of his constituents, must be a visible and vocal player with a credible agenda. We hope his appearance in Annapolis is a new beginning. Baltimore Countians can't, after all, pay for vital services with political slogans.