Sometime before the end of May, when the Anne Arundel County Council strikes a new budget, residents are going to learn a difficult lesson: They're going to learn they can't have it all.
Five months ago, voters overwhelmingly agreed to cap property tax growth. Because property tax revenue is the linchpin of the county budget, what voters were really saying is that they wanted a smaller, less expensive government -- one that does less.
So here we are, with budget season upon us, and County Executive Robert R. Neall is preparing to give people what they asked for. His sweeping reorganization merges departments, cuts the work force and gets rid of programs. His new government is smaller, less expensive and does less.
So people are happy, right?
Guess again. Those who showed up at Mr. Neall's four recent budget hearings didn't say they were happy with what he's doing. They didn't even ask for the same level of services. They asked for more. And not only did they demand no reduction in services, they also demanded no change in how services are provided.
Parents who use day care provided through the Department of Parks and Recreation balked at Mr. Neall's plan to privatize the service, even though day care -- certainly not a basic county service -- is an obvious choice for privatization. The day care would still exist under Mr. Neall's plan; parents just don't think it would be as good.
Mr. Neall also heard from community athletic organizations, who don't want him to transfer park maintenance to the Department of Public Works, responsible for all other maintenance. This is a classic cost-saving efficiency. But the parks organizations object because they don't believe public works will take care of athletic fields properly.
If people aren't willing to change the way the county cuts the grass to save money, what are they willing to change?
No doubt Mr. Neall's hearings reflected a different constituency than the one that approved the tax cap. But it's a safe bet that at least some of the people who asked for more two weeks ago were also among the tens of thousands who voted for less -- $10 million less -- last November. If they don't yet understand the connection between tax revenues and services, they will soon.