Baltimore County's Brave Budget

May 29, 1992

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden and five of the seven county council members won election in 1990 with an anti-tax, anti-spending mandate from voters. Then the recession hit. Workers lost jobs, tax revenues dropped, funding for long-standing programs vanished. Meanwhile, the demand for social services rose. Drastic cuts in state aid brought Baltimore County and other staggering jurisdictions to their knees, as vital services including police and fire-fighting were curtailed.

In crafting their $1.15 billion county budget for fiscal 1993, which was passed yesterday by the council, Mr. Hayden and council members could have repaid their political debt to the anti-tax crowd by ignoring the many hardships felt by citizens and public agencies alike. The executive and the council could have gone the way of the county's Annapolis delegation, whose truculent stance against responsible tax hikes during the last legislative session left the county in bad standing with high state officials.

Instead, realizing that difficult times require unusual actions, Mr. Hayden and the council leadership bucked their backers and determined to work together in what is reported to be an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two branches of county government in Towson.

By consenting to Mr. Hayden's request to raise the piggyback income tax from 50 percent to 55 percent, the council won the executive's approval to take $7.2 million from his proposed budget and shift it to areas that the council members considered particularly needy. The police department will get 40 new officers. Funds previously cut from the fire department's emergency medical services program will be restored. County schools will be outfitted with new computers. And Mr. Hayden's proposed "rainy day fund" of $5.5 million, a safeguard against a repeat of the recent cuts in state aid, will be nearly doubled.

"Votes will be lost. Some friendships will be affected," council chairman William A. Howard IV said yesterday in delivering his budget message. He was anticipating the hate mail and angry phone calls from the tax protesters who helped elect Mr. Hayden and much of the current council.

Yet, as Mr. Howard also pointed out, the reallocated $7.2 million was not spent on fluff. The tax protesters should keep that in mind. They will probably want to vilify their former standard-bearers, but they might be wise to join other residents and county leaders in commending the executive and the council for showing courage and responsibility at a time when they are sorely needed.

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