Local government leaders have protested Gov. Willia Donald Schaefer's latest budget balancing plan, saying his proposed cuts in aid to Baltimore and the 23 counties are unfairly large.
Mr. Schaefer disagreed, saying he intends to stick by his plan to shave local government aid by another $150 million as part of his broader $450 million deficit-reduction 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."
Baltimore 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 and emerged with an agreement to fight the governor's plan.
The local leaders or their surrogates also met privately with Mr. Schaefer.
"We had a frank discussion, but no decisions were reached," said Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden. "We're going to continue to work together."
The reaction from Baltimore and the counties, their first concerted response since Mr. Schaefer unveiled his plan last week, appeared to be essentially a counteroffer.
The outside limits are now set for what is likely to be a protracted series of negotiations between the governor, the legislature and local officials over precisely how much will be cut and from where.
Mr. Schaefer needs General Assembly approval to cut so deeply into local aid programs, and he had asked the counties to tell him where in their budgets they want the reductions made.
Although legislative leaders have informally concurred with Mr. Schaefer's plan to trim 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, however, may take the rest of his budget-balancing plan to the Board of Public Works for approval 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 state programs that indirectly funnel aid to the counties are added to the $150 million in direct reductions.
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.
"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," he said.
Even with a $200 million reduction in state aid, local governments would not be much worse off than they were a year ago when they received a $184 million increase in aid for education.
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.
DTC But local officials note that while state aid for schools has risen, the state has cut other types of local assistance, forcing cuts in police, trash pickup, and other basic services.
Local officials involved in yesterday's meetings said they were concerned not only with the size of the reduction in local aid, but also wanted assurances from Mr. Schaefer that the state would 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.
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.