Deal to cut state aid gains votes 5 jurisdictions accept loss of help in Social Security

November 11, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Leaders of five of the state's seven most populous jurisdictions threw their support behind a plan to eliminate a $147 million local aid program yesterday, but only after being assured their budgets will not be cut any more this fiscal year.

General Assembly leaders had sought a formal expression of support from Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties and the city of Baltimore to help solidify the votes needed to end the program, in which the state covers the cost of Social Security taxes for teachers, librarians and community college employees.

Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which stand to lose the most in Social Security reimbursements, still strongly oppose the change and are pushing an alternate plan more favorable to them.

Ending the Social Security program -- a move that will be considered at a special legislative session scheduled to convene a week from today -- is a major element of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's broader plan to eliminate a state budget deficit estimated at $450 million.

The expected show of support yesterday was slow in coming.

Local officials had scheduled a 10 a.m. news conference to announce their endorsement, but could not agree in a private meeting with House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. on the precise wording of the proposed legislation. By the time disagreements were worked out, it was 5 p.m.

One issue that caught some local officials off-guard was a legislative attempt to limit how much money they could cut from their respective school boards, libraries or governmental departments to help cover the loss of the Social Security money. The two sides reached a compromise in which the city and counties agreed that no department or agency would be cut by a percentage greater than what its budget is of the overall local budget. For example, the typical county spends 50 percent of its budget on schools. Therefore, if a county must absorb, say, a $20 million Social Security cut overall, no more than $10 million of that could be taken from the school budget.

The other sticking point was whether Baltimore and the counties should be given express authority to cut the budgets of locally funded state offices, such as sheriffs, state's attorneys and boards of elections. Some of the jurisdictions lobbied for that authority. The attorney general has ruled that without the express permission of the legislature, local governments do not have the power to force those offices to accept budget cuts.

Largely due to opposition from Senator Miller, the county officials agreed to accept proposed legislation that would not give them the authority to impose such cuts.

Several local officials, who asked not to be identified, accused Mr. Miller of opposing such language because they said he does not wish to make it any easier for his political enemy, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, to balance his budget.

Mr. Miller dismissed such allegations as "blatantly ludicrous."

Mr. Glendening said he expects his county's sheriff, state's attorney and elections board to work voluntarily with him on budget reductions, as they have in the past.

Mr. Miller said he opposed granting such authority because he fears it would spark opposition to the bill from sheriffs, prosecutors or others that could cost him the votes he desperately needs to pass the bill and to end a threatened filibuster.

In addition to giving an assurance that there will be no further cuts in state aid to local governments this budget year, the legislature's presiding officers also pledged to review costly local programs that are mandated by the state. Mr. Glendening, however, rejected that and other concessions as "mere window dressing."

He and others in Prince George's County have joined an unusually unified Montgomery County delegation in opposing the Social Security plan. While they acknowledge local governments must share in this latest statewide budget problem, they disagree on the method.

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