State fiscal mess bodes ill for counties Shortfall may mean more local cuts


September 13, 1992|By Sharon Hornberger

The beat goes on . . . the wheel of history continues to revolve . . . the state budget appears to continue to being faced with shortfalls.

Well, what else is new? We've been hearing this same song since the summer of 1990.

The governor has stated that he will cut "as much as the law allows" from local government to assist in meeting another $500 million in state budget reductions.

Carroll County could be hard hit. Perhaps this time, Carroll County employees will have to take their furlough days -- just like their state counterparts have had to do during the past 12 months. County Finance Director Steve Powell will have to burn more than the midnight oil to find solutions if this round of cuts is as serious and deep as the governor projects.

Cuts are proposed to Maryland state colleges and universities. This will mean fewer dollars to Carroll Community College. Students can expect increases to tuition and fees.

But the greater increase to tuition and fees should be placed on those students who attend state schools and are not Maryland residents. They currently do pay a higher fee, but the greater percentage increase should be directed to these students. They do not contribute to the state tax base, so the additional dollars should be requested from them.

Serious consideration must be given to discontinuing those areas of study that are less productive or are duplicative. Our state schools simply cannot afford to be all things to all students.

Not every college or university within the system needs to make available all courses. Now is the right time to consider greater specialization at the state-funded schools.

These ideas are not new, but they have not been given the serious consideration in the past that should, and I believe will, be directed to them now during these tight economic times.

The Departments of Health and Public Safety also are likely targets for the budget ax. They have escaped any serious cuts during the last two years, but this cannot continue. To date, no proposals have been stated, but many are being given consideration.

As I see it, the real problem appears to be the method currently being used to estimate the state revenues. The state acknowledges that part of the current problem has been caused by inflated revenue estimates.

These estimates are prepared by the Bureau of Revenue Estimates, which falls within the Office of the State Comptroller.

When will the government understand the simple concept that just because you are currently receiving, let's say, 15 cents on 10 million packs of cigarettes, that if you raise the tax to 20 cents, you will not necessarily continue to sell 10 million packs of cigarettes?

This is the current thinking, but you and I know this is not true. There will be some people who will say, what the heck, 5 cents more tax a pack, now's the time to quit, so you lose that revenue.

Then there are those who live close to the borders of neighboring states, and now that they can save 20 cents tax per pack, rather than 15 cents tax a pack, they travel a few miles into another state, and buy their cigarettes.

Again, the state loses that revenue. So you see why I say the problem is with the Bureau of Revenue Estimates.

But some of the burden must fall to the state legislators. They, in their wisdom, voted for these "user fees" -- note that the legislators do not like the "T word" -- but no matter what you call the increase, they are taxes.

Everybody must take their fair share of the responsibility for the current budget shortfall -- read as "mess" -- that we citizens of Carroll County and the state of Maryland are facing.

How can the governor prepare a budget and then expect the legislature to vote upon a budget with faulty and inaccurate revenue estimates?

How can Carroll County and the other 23 jurisdictions prepare their budgets, not knowing just what to expect from the state?

How can state and county employees prepare their home budgets, not knowing when and for how long they may be furloughed?

We deserve better treatment than we're getting these days. I just hope that the light that we keep hearing about at the end of the tunnel is not just another train coming from the opposite direction.

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