Hayden: No Longer a Magician

April 24, 1992

A year ago, freshman Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden looked like a budget magician, pulling both a property tax cut and hundreds of new teachers out of his hat.

Yesterday, his act got booed off stage.

Mr. Hayden unveiled a $1.15 billion budget that cut the county's contribution to education, possibly for the first time since the Great Depression. While he managed to hold the property tax rate steady, Mr. Hayden did propose raising the piggyback tax from 50 to 55 percent of the state levy, making Baltimore County the only jurisdiction in this area to avail itself of the higher taxing power recently granted the city and counties by the General Assembly. The increase would amount to about $85 for someone earning $50,000 a year.

Last year, despite the fact that Mr. Hayden did not propose raising salaries for government workers, county unions were appeased, the school superintendent was pleased, anti-tax forces were satisfied, legislators were impressed. The political novice had magically charmed them all.

By contrast, one didn't have to search far from council chambers in the old courthouse in Towson yesterday to find observers dissatisfied with Mr. Hayden's budget. The school superintendent called it "terrible." The teachers union head called it "irresponsible." Employees groused, understandably, about going without a pay raise for a second consecutive year while being asked to pay more for health insurance. The tax protest coalition was displeased about the proposed piggyback increase.

The school system wants 150 more teachers to accommodate 3,600 new students expected in the system in September. Instead, it'll have to make do with 130 fewer teachers than it has now -- a veritable 280-teacher cut. No money was included for new police or fire recruits, even though the police department is about 150 officers below its authorized strength and the fire department is down 97 positions.

In short, the lingering recession caught up to Mr. Hayden's act. In fact, he worries that state budgetmakers haven't learned their lesson from this year in estimating income growth at near 7 percent for 1992-93. Baltimore County budgeteers estimate growth at closer to 2 percent.

In his budget address, Mr. Hayden harkened back to what was for him the dreamy election of 1990. The anti-tax coalitions helped him upset a free-spending incumbent while a ballot question that would have restricted county spending was defeated. The dichotomy enabled both sides to claim victory.

Yesterday, neither side of the debate -- those who want taxes cut or those who want services maintained -- cheered.

What a difference a year can make.

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