State cuts hitting home Schmoke, council meeting to discuss piggyback tax rise

November 20, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer Staff writers John Rivera, Larry Carson, James Coram and William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

Baltimore area officials are trying to come to grips with a new law that shifts $147 million in state expenses to local governments.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he would meet with members of the City Council today to discuss the possibility of raising the city's piggyback income tax to make up for the lost revenue.

Some county executives did not have specific plans yesterday for coping with the cuts, but several promised to limit the effect on government services, particularly education.

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, who first proposed the plan approved yesterday, said his school system will not bear the brunt of the county's $15.3 million cut.

The lost aid will be made up from a budget surplus last year, by delaying payment on certain construction projects, by keeping 50 jobs vacant and from a current hiring freeze, Mr. Neall said.

In Harford, Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said the county could absorb the $5.8 million loss in state aid without a significant cut in services, in part because the county had a budget surplus last year. Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he plans to make up for his jurisdiction's $7 million cut by reducing various government departments by up to 5 percent.

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden, who lost the third most money of the 24 jurisdictions, offered no specifics on coping with his $20.6 million loss in state aid, but he said some details will be announced next week.

After a legislative session marked by regional feuding, Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed the spending bill onto law yesterday.

The measure passed the Maryland House of Delegates by a surprisingly wide margin of 83-53 yesterday afternoon, ending a two-day special session called to cut the state budget. The Senate passed it, 29-17, late Wednesday.

Legislators from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which together lost $48 million under the plan, immediately vowed political revenge against their former ally, Baltimore, for breaking ranks and supporting the budget cuts.

"We will not forget this day. There's a war on now," pledged Del. Joseph Vallario Jr., the Democrat who chairs the Prince George's County House delegation.

The legislation eliminates a state program that since 1958 has paid the employers' share of Social Security taxes for public school, library and community college employees in Baltimore and the 23 counties. The cost of the program has grown steadily over the years, and it is estimated to have cost $250 million by the year 2000.

Passage of the bill, part of the governor's broader plan to eliminate a $450 million deficit in this year's budget, marks the ninth swing of the state budget ax during the past 2 1/2 years. During that time, the state has chopped almost $2 billion in VTC programs, eliminating hundreds of jobs and reducing health and welfare programs for the poor.

Montgomery County, a jurisdiction with well-paid teachers and a growing school enrollment, benefited the most from the Social Security program. While taking a large cut this fiscal year, county lawmakers voiced even more concern about the measure's future effect. Yesterday's action sticks them with a tab that will increase significantly in years to come as the county hires more teachers for its growing school-age population.

Many Montgomery lawmakers, and some from Prince George's County, said they will stop supporting Baltimore in its continuing efforts to leverage more state aid because Baltimore failed to help them.

"It is inevitable there will be an issue in which Baltimore City will be seeking our support, and it will be very difficult for us to come across," warned Del. Brian E. Frosh, the Democrat who leads the Montgomery County House delegation.

But Governor Schaefer, a former mayor of Baltimore, said he doubted those two suburbs would follow through on the threats because it would be counterproductive.

"The only thing I'm concerned about is there are those asking for retribution against a particular subdivision," the governor said. "I think cooler heads will prevail."

He hinted that he will try to mend fences with Montgomery, but he provided no specifics. "Montgomery County has not been slighted, will not be slighted in the future," he said.

Sen. John Pica, who leads city senators, said Baltimore probably won't ask for any more state money in the 1993 regular session "because there is no money."

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