Legislature called to cut budget Montogomery lawmakers threaten to retaliate against city programs

November 10, 1992|By John Frece | John Frece,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer summoned the General Assembly yesterday for another budget-cutting special session next week, despite threats of retaliation from Montgomery County lawmakers who vehemently oppose planned cuts.

Mr. Schaefer and House and Senate leaders want to permanently eliminate a state program that now sends $147 million a year to Baltimore and the 23 counties to cover the Social Security costs for teachers, librarians and community college employees. Cost of the program to the state is unpredictable because the salaries are set locally.

The reduction is a key element of the governor's broader plan to eliminate a $450 million deficit in the current budget year.

Montgomery County, which has a large student population and well-paid teachers, would be hardest hit by the change. Several county legislators predicted yesterday that if the measure is shoved down their throats, it will create a lasting rift within the General Assembly.

They also contend there has been an understanding within the legislature for years that the Social Security program would remain untouched as long as the county supported programs to send more education aid to Baltimore and other poor jurisdictions. Elimination of the Social Security payments may destroy any alliance the county has had with the city, several county lawmakers warned.

"This battle can be won [by the legislative leadership], but it is not going to be very pleasant overall for the legislative process or for the city in particular," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee. "I think it is a big mistake to run this over Montgomery County."

The special session is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 18, with a hearing on the proposed legislation expected the day before.

Sen. Ida G. Ruben, chairman of Montgomery County's Senate delegation, said she and her colleagues are prepared to launch a time-consuming filibuster to block passage of the measure, if necessary.

"We're not going to roll over and play dead," she vowed. "We'll probably object very strenuously and with whatever mechanism is provided for us."

Del. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the county's House delegation, called the bill "lousy policy."

If it passes, he said, "I think you won't see Montgomery County supporting programs that benefit Baltimore City in the future."

The presiding officers in both houses said they were well aware of the opposition from Montgomery County, and from neighboring Prince George's County, for that matter. But they said various competing budget reduction plans were unlikely to attract the number of votes needed for passage.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Kent County Democrat, said he believes he has lined up at least 80 votes for the Social Security measure in the House, where 71 votes are required for passage.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, was less specific, although it is widely believed that neither he nor Mr. Mitchell would agree to a special session unless they were confident they had enough votes.

"It was difficult last year raising taxes, and I anticipate an equally difficult time this year cutting the budget. But we will prevail," Mr. Miller said.

If the Social Security cut goes through, Baltimore and the counties will have to find funds elsewhere in their budgets to cover the loss. Mr. Schaefer and legislative leaders agreed yesterday to let each jurisdiction decide how best to do that, but they want each subdivision to submit a plan by Jan. 15.

Still at issue yesterday was whether the legislation should grant specific authority for local officials to cut the budgets for sheriffs, state's attorneys and boards of elections -- state offices that are financed locally.

Also under discussion was whether the legislation should limit to a specific percentage -- 33 percent was discussed -- the amount of funds that local officials may cut from school boards, libraries or community colleges.

"It's not right for them to delegate a problem to us and then tie our hands as to how to address the problem," protested David S. Bliden, director of the Maryland Association of Counties.

The special session will mark the fifth time since May 1990, the General Assembly has been forced to meet in either special or extended session to deal with the state's continuing budgetary problems.

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