Sharing the Budget Blows

September 25, 1992

It's time for Gov. William Donald Schaefer and leaders of the Big Seven subdivisions to stop their blustering and start slashing $450 million from the state budget in a pragmatic and cooperative manner. Such massive cutbacks are going to hurt, no matter what programs are affected. And the pain will be felt by thousands of Maryland citizens, regardless of whether a state or a local program is impacted.

Yet county leaders are taking the unyielding position that they won't go along with the governor's suggestion of $150 million in local aid reductions (plus another $24 million in indirect local cuts) because it is more than their fair share. Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening said, "We are not going to acquiesce in the destruction of local programs."

Yet exempting localities from the budget cuts would lead to the destruction of state programs. Either way, citizens will be denied services. It should not be a them-or-us proposition: both the state and the local governments are going to be losers.

Mr. Schaefer has a valid point that most subdivisions (Baltimore City being the glaring exception) can absorb the cuts he has proposed. After all, the total amount of the cuts is less than the new local aid approved by the General Assembly just last spring. Some counties felt so fiscally comfortable that they handed out pay raises to employees and set up "rainy day" funds. For these better-off subdivisions, crying poor when the governor seeks a giveback doesn't ring true.

At the same time, Mr. Schaefer hasn't tried to work with county and city leaders in crafting a comprehensive budget-reduction plan. The $150 million cut was simply imposed from on high. That's not fair, and it isn't good budgeting, either. Cuts of that magnitude will cause political turmoil; only a carefully devised consensus approach is likely to succeed.

Whether it is community colleges or state universities, local health clinics or state health programs, local school aid or state education initiatives, these budget cuts have to be made to achieve a balanced budget, as required by the state constitution. The war of words between the governor and local executives isn't helpful. They ought to be working together to set some mutually agreed-upon priorities so they can cushion the pain of budget cutbacks on needy and deserving Marylanders. That would take real leadership.

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