Schaefer assures county officials he'll watch out for their interests

December 04, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer attempted to comfort shell-shocked county officials last night, saying he will try to spare them from costly new state programs in the coming year if the state fails to provide the money needed to pay for them.

Speaking at the Maryland Association of Counties' (MACo) annual winter banquet, the governor also said he hopes to protect counties that still are reeling from nine rounds of budget cuts in three years from any additional reductions.

County officials have been pressing Mr. Schaefer and legislative leaders for months to protect them from programs mandated by the state but which must be paid for by local jurisdictions.

"Any law I propose in the coming session that is a mandate to you, and if we don't provide the funds, I want you to tell me and we will withdraw any support for it," Mr. Schaefer said to a warm round of applause from the audience of several hundred.

As for future cuts, the governor repeated his intention to use his own revenue estimates in developing next year's budget, saying previous projections have been wrong six different times.

"This time if they are wrong, it is going to be up to me to figure out how to pay for the errors that I make," he said. "The estimates will be made by the governor because if I'm going to be blamed for it, I might as well do the whole thing."

MACo Executive Director David S. Bliden said the assurances were just what county officials have wanted.

"That's a very critical component to what we consider county fiscal security," he said. "We were very glad to hear the governor means to accommodate the needs of the county governments. It lets the counties go back home and deal with their budgets in responsible ways."

Mr. Schaefer was upbeat, saying he thinks the prolonged recession finally has bottomed out and the economy may be beginning an upturn.

But he warned the association of counties to continue to work together rather than dividing into camps of competing subdivisions. At last month's special legislative session, when the House and Senate agreed to trim another $147 million in state aid from the counties, Montgomery County lawmakers -- hard hit by the reduction -- threatened to retaliate against programs that benefit Baltimore because city lawmakers voted for the spending reduction.

"Don't divide the state," Mr. Schaefer said. "Don't declare war on another area. It's the wrong thing to do."

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