The counties take on Schaefer

September 25, 1992

Local leaders of Maryland's six largest counties and Baltimore City, known as the Big Seven, have picked the wrong time and the wrong issue to slug it out with Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The governor has little choice but to reduce state aid to the subdivisions as part of his $450 million budget-reduction plan. No matter how the cutting is done, it will be felt at the local level.

Big Seven leaders say they will resist the $150 million cut in local aid announced by the governor. That is good political rhetoric, but not good bargaining strategy. Local leaders need to sit down and negotiate with Mr. Schaefer, not duke it out with him. This is a slugfest the executives are bound to lose.

The governor says the counties and the city should contribute their fair share to the reductions. But the local leaders say the governor wants them to chip in far more than is fair.

Both sides miss the point. These reductions are going to prove excruciating for many of the state's needy citizens regardless of whether the money comes out of the state budget or the local government's budget.

Most of the new revenue raised this spring through tax increases was sent back to the city and counties. Asking the localities now to remit much of this extra aid may not be popular, but it shouldn't prove impossible for most counties, either.

At the same time, Mr. Schaefer erred by not turning to the Big Seven executives for guidance on how to make his latest round of budget-balancing cuts. A broad-based consensus by political leaders is important when public services are reduced so dramatically.

And the impact will be dramatic. Especially for poor subdivisions such as Baltimore City, the cuts could mean layoffs and the end to programs that help fight crime, disease and the vicious cycle of poverty. Yet there has been no discussion among the governor, state legislators and Big Seven leaders on how to prevent such ill-advised steps.

Nor has there been any joint examination by these groups of alternative budget plans. No agenda for dealing with this problem has been set. No creative options have been put on the table for discussion.

We urge the governor, legislators and local leaders to set up a summit conference, to be held in the next few weeks, so they can hammer out a way to deal with these severe budget cuts that is both sensitive and sensible.

Finding a consensus won't be easy. But if the pain of these cuts is to be shared, so should the decision-making.

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