Education will not bear the brunt of $14.4 million in proposed state budget cuts to Anne Arundel County, County Executive Robert R. Neall promised yesterday, even though the money being slashed was earmarked for school system coffers.
The proposal, in which the state would stop paying the employers' portion of Social Security taxes for teachers, librarians and community college professors, was the brainchild of Mr. Neall. Although the plan, which will save the state $147 million, has come under fire from opponents who say it amounts to a cut in education, Mr. Neall said that was never his intention.
"A lot of people who are against this cut say it's an education cut. Nothing could be further from the truth," Mr. Neall said.
The executive said he already has worked out a way to absorb the cut in aid for this year without affecting services and without touching his $10 million "rainy day fund." He will pay for the cuts through savings in the county's recent voluntary retirement program, by deferring payment on certain capital projects and drawing on a $7 million budget surplus from last year.
While acknowledging that the school, library and community budgets would seem likely to take a hit, since they will have to pick up the tab for their employees' Social Security, he intends to avoid that by transferring funds from other departments.
"Obviously we're not going to make them eat the whole thing," Mr. Neall said, noting that the county schools' share of the Social Security costs would be about $13 million. "We'll sit down and try to share the misery."
But talk of sharing the misery did not mollify Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. Since the plan was Mr. Neall's idea, he said, the schools budget should not be affected at all.
"The fact is, the county executive went to the governor and said, 'This is the way we want to take the hit,' " Mr. Paolino said. "If he is saying that this is something the county should have been paying all along, then he should find the money in his budget."
Mr. Paolino said the proposal was further evidence the state does not support public education. "What we're seeing from the state is, 'Well, [education] is a priority as long as it doesn't cost anything.' "
Mr. Paolino said TAAAC will take its case to Mr. Neall and the county legislative delegation. "We will be going to the members of the Anne Arundel County delegation of the General Assembly and saying, 'Hey, this is not fair,' " he said.
Not all legislators agree, however. Of all the proposals the General Assembly has considered, said Sen. John A. Cade, R-Severna Park, this appears to be the least painful. Contrary to the claims of critics, it will not affect education, he said, because the expense will merely be added to each department's budget request.
"It doesn't take anything away from teachers, or any other educators, or the community colleges or the librarians. And I think it's misinformation to say that it does," he said.
Sen. Philip C. Jimeno said he would support this latest plan only if it does not target education.
"I would like the county executive to spell out to me exactly what impact it will have on education," he said. "Obviously, I'm very protective of education."
In other communities in the Baltimore area, officials agreed that the cuts would be difficult to handle:
Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was preparing for the worst in the face of the cuts. He said the city's 26,000 employees will have to accept pay reductions or face layoffs for the city to absorb the $20 million it is likely to lose because of the state cut.
"We don't have many options," Mr. Schmoke said. "In a budget that is 80 percent personnel, we are left with some combination of salary reductions, layoffs and furloughs."
Mr. Schmoke's plans are sure to be opposed by municipal employee unions, who say their members have shouldered the brunt of the city's budget problems. They point out that city workers have not had a pay increase for two years. And last year, city employees were forced to take a 2 1/2 -day pay cut. A federal lawsuit filed by the unions to force the city to restore the pay cut was successful, but it is being appealed by the city.
In Baltimore County, Roger B. Hayden accused Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the state's legislative leaders of dumping Maryland's financial problems on local governments, instead of solving them.
"The compact has been broken," Mr. Hayden said of the long standing relationship under which the state has returned some of its tax dollars for local use.
Mr. Hayden would not say how the county would deal with the cuts. When the last round of reductions came through, Mr. Hayden ordered his departments to rank their programs in order of importance. He said he will make his decisions on which programs to cut after reviewing their findings next month.
Howard County School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey yesterday reacted angrily to the proposed cut.