How Counties Fared in Annapolis

April 17, 1993

For Baltimore's suburban counties, the special legislative session held last autumn served the same purpose as when patients give blood to stockpile a reserve for their own pending surgeries. By giving up about $150 million in state assistance for Social Security payments for teachers, community college workers and librarians last November, the counties sought assurances they wouldn't be cut so deeply this past legislative session. And indeed, they weren't.

In fact, the legislature approved a $193 million increase for local jurisdictions in its session that ended Monday, more than canceling out the Social Security reduction. Last fall's cut and this winter's increase were not a total wash; richer counties got hit harder in the trade-off because the Social Security aid forfeited was greater than the need-based aid they got. But poorer counties came out ahead.

Still, even though the local governments got $18 million less they they requested, they had to be pleased not to have been the featured fight in the State House boxing ring this go-round.

Equally important for the counties and their constituents, the General Assembly approved $20 million more than was requested for school capital spending -- a total of $80 million. Aside from an $88 million capital plan that was passed in 1989, just before the recession, that's the most allocated for school construction since the 1970s. Based on a list of projects funded last January, the extra $20 million the legislature tacked on could mean an additional 15 projects or more when the Board of Public Works meets to approve them April 21. And with Maryland school enrollment projected to increase by nearly 20 percent in the coming decade -- even more so in the metro suburbs -- such investment is imperative.

The locals' other concern at this point is money for local health departments. They're unsure the governor will sign a bill that guarantees local health funding, which has ridden a roller coaster in recent years -- $50 million in fiscal year 1990, $14 million in 1993, $30 million for 1994. We believe that the governor, a strong proponent of the life- and cost-saving benefits of prevention, will support the local health clinics.

Surely, the local jurisidictions benefited from their own harsh preventive medicine. By compromising on the budget last fall and helping the state weather the recession, they come out of the just-concluded, 90-day operation in Annapolis much healthier than they went in.

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