Glendening's Fiscal Shell Game

April 10, 1992

The feud between Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening and the county council over freezing worker's wages transcends salaries. It's about how to run government in tough times. The council, realistically viewing Prince George's deteriorating fiscal picture, recently overrode the executive's veto of a measure freezing all government employee pay through October.

Mr. Glendening said the measure wasn't needed in the wake of agreements he made with unions to stretch out wage increases. He also unveiled a $1 billion-plus budget calling for more money for schools, increasing the number of police and firefighters, lower property taxes and no more layoffs for county workers.

The motives behind the growing estrangement of these two branches of Prince George's government is being cast in alternate lights. Is Mr. Glendening sacrificing fiscal integrity for his upcoming gubernatorial bid? Is the county council responding defensively to his moves to strip its clout over land-use decisions and term limitations?

Probably a little of both. But the central issue is how to proceed in the wake of fiscal duress. Last year's $80 million shortfall was averted only by borrowing $60 million to create a balanced budget. Largely due to huge cuts in state aid, another $60 million in IOUs will be needed this year.

Prince George's is in no position to grant county workers pay hikes this month. Mr. Glendening's approach -- postponing the day of reckoning and borrowing long-term to finance short-term obligations -- is dubious. So is a budget predicated on increases in the county's piggyback income tax that may not be approved in Annapolis.

The lessons of the past are being ignored. The expected recovery that was supposed to help pay for last year's borrowing never materialized. Now, after massive layoffs, tax increases and furloughs, Prince George's is even further away from recovery -- and going back to the borrowing well to avert another deficit. Mr. Glendening's strategies for avoiding reality may be politically palatable. But they're financially indefensible. Mortgaging tomorrow's cash flow to pay today's bills is not the way to run a household -- or a county.

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