County cautious about state budget Howard would get 11% increase in aid

January 24, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Despite a proposed 11 percent increase in state aid to the county, Howard officials are not sure the governor's proposed budget is good news -- at least not yet.

"It's a bold attempt to set an agenda, but it's way premature" for the county to begin making decisions based on the proposal, said Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks.

The $8.5 million increase "would help a lot," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "If we don't get it, we'll have to find $8 million someplace else by making reductions."

Mr. Wacks estimates that Gov. William Donald Schaefer's spending proposal will go through three or four permutations before it is adopted by the General Assembly. "Last year, we had six or seven budgets," he said. "I don't think it's going to be

quite that bad."

Mr. Ecker said that although he has not seen the governor's budget data, he assumes the governor is replacing money this year that the state took away last year.

According to figures released in Annapolis Thursday, Howard County would receive $85 million in state aid, 11.2 percent or $8.5 million more than last year.

If the increase is applied to the same categories that lost money last year, the school system would receive about $5 million more and the Police Department $1 million more, Mr. Wacks said. The remainder would be divided among the health department and the community college, with the library getting a small portion. Mr. Wacks does not expect the governor's proposal to emerge unscathed, however. "There is a real push to kill keno" -- the controversial new lottery game that the governor is counting on to produce $100 million in his $12.7 billion budget -- and there is going to be a drive within the General Assembly to hold down expenses, he said.

Mr. Wacks noted that House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Kent Democrat, is already calling for a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in the state budget, saying that if he had prepared the budget, there would have been no increase in spending.

Regardless, Mr. Ecker said he is "reasonably optimistic that these [state aid] numbers will stay" in the state budget due to a turnaround in the economy. In past years, Mr. Ecker predicted correctly that the state had overestimated revenues and would cut aid to counties.

The state estimates are "a little more conservative than in the past," he said, but are still greater than he expects. The state is predicting revenues of 3.4 percent, but Mr. Ecker thinks they will be closer to 2 percent. He anticipates county revenues will grow at about 4 percent.

Mr. Wacks worries that too much of the governor's budget is based on keno. Many senators and delegates within the General Assembly have criticized using the lottery game to raise revenues.

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