Schaefer plan for budget called unfair

September 24, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer Staff writers Peter Jensen and Michael Fletcher contributed to this article.

Any hope for easy agreement on Gov. William Donal Schaefer's proposed budget cuts vanished yesterday as local government leaders balked, saying it's unfair to cut $150 million in aid to Baltimore and the 23 counties.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the executives of the state's six most populous counties met with representatives of the Maryland Association of Counties yesterday morning and emerged with an agreement to fight Mr. Schaefer's proposal.

"We are not acquiescing to the $150 million cut at all. To do so would open us to major cuts in the future," said Parris Glendening, the Prince George's County Executive.

The reaction from Baltimore and the counties was their first concerted response since Mr. Schaefer unveiled his proposal last week to sharply cut local aid as part of a broader, $450 million deficit-reduction plan.

Despite their strong language, the local officials appeared to be trying to make a counteroffer.

They would like to reduce the size of the cut they will be asked to absorb through a series of negotiations with the governor and the legislature. And they attempted to begin that process during a private meeting with Mr. Schaefer yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Schaefer, however, said he intends to stick by his plan.

"One-hundred-and-fifty is a solid figure," Mr. Schaefer said. "You can manipulate figures anyway you want. Their share is one-fifty, period. It is a good political ploy [to] blame the governor."

Assembly approval required

Mr. Schaefer needs General Assembly approval to cut so deeply into local aid programs.

Although legislative leaders have informally concurred with Mr. Schaefer's plan to reduce local aid by $150 million, approval by the full legislature cannot be sought until the General Assembly convenes in January or a special session is called before then.

The governor has indicated that he may take the rest of his budget-balancing plan to the Board of Public Works for approval as early as next week.

County officials contend their analysis of the governor's plan shows that local governments would end up losing in excess of $200 million if cuts to some state programs that indirectly funnel aid to the counties are included.

Schaefer administration officials dispute the way the local governments are adding up the numbers. Both the governor and legislative leaders have said they believe local governments should share in about one-third of the $450 million deficit-reduction plan -- or about $150 million -- because they receive about one-third of all state spending.

But local leaders argue they're being asked to lose more than their fair share.

"It appears that the impact on counties and the city is not one-third. It looks closer to one-half," said Mayor Schmoke. "We wanted to say that the distribution the governor wanted is not being achieved."

Even with a $200 million reduction in state aid, local governments would not be much worse off than they were a year ago.

A cut of that size would essentially wipe out increases in local aid approved by the General Assembly earlier this year.

Returning to late 1980s?

In contrast, Mr. Schaefer's proposed cutbacks in many programs run by state agencies would return them to levels not seen since the late 1980s or earlier.

Local officials argue that while state aid for some local programs -- primarily schools -- has risen, the state has cut other types of local assistance, forcing cuts in police, trash pickup, and other basic services.

Some officials involved in yesterday's meetings said they were concerned not just with the size of the proposed reduction in local aid, but they also want assurances from Mr. Schaefer that the state will give local governments more budgetary freedom.

The local jurisdictions are afraid they will give in to deep reductions in state aid this year, only to be saddled in future years with new state requirements forcing them to spend money in certain ways or on certain programs.

Because there is no agreement yet on the total size of the local aid reduction, there has been only limited discussion to date on which specific programs might be axed.

Social Security item

Those at yesterday's meeting said Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall proposed that the governor do away with the state program that reimburses local jurisdictions for the Social Security costs for teachers, community college employees and librarians. The cost to the state is about $150 million, although such a reduction would hurt wealthy jurisdictions such as Montgomery County the most.

Mr. Schaefer has wanted to do away with the program for years because the state has no control over its growth. When local governments give their teachers, community college professors or librarians payraises, the state has no choice but to cover the higher Social Security costs.

Others at the meeting, however, said it was premature to talk about which program might be cut or discontinued until agreement is reached on the overall number.

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