Reflections on 'Black Friday' ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

April 26, 1993

Before county employees paste Anne Arundel Executive Robert R. Neall's visage to a dart board, they should remember he is not solely responsible for the layoff of 120 county workers earlier this month April. They should remember tax rebel Robert Schaeffer and his band of merry men, as well as all the voters who supported a cap on property taxes.

Mr. Schaeffer and his Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association have rarely been heard from since last November's election. Nonetheless, the tax cap they pushed is the reason behind those pink slips.

It's true, of course, that Mr. Neall intended to reduce and restructure government from the day he took office.

But his original plan was a gradual change, to be accomplished over four years. He planned to cut the work force by 10 percent from the start, but then to pare it down over time, through attrition, privatization and early retirements. Even when the state started cutting massive amounts of aid in the fall of 1991, he avoided layoffs by asking for wage concessions instead.

Layoffs became a part of Mr. Neall's strategy only after voters approved the tax cap. The cap, expected to cost the county $10 million in revenue in fiscal year 1994 and more in succeeding years, forced him to take more immediate, drastic measures or to renege on his promise to build an economically sound government. He could have avoided the current discontent by juggling and borrowing. But that would have been contrary to the platform on which he was elected, and, in the long run, more damaging to Mr. Neall politically than the hits he is now enduring.

Juggling to scrape by wouldn't have done the county any good, either. Once the tax cap was approved, permanent major changes had to be made. Mr. Neall's decision to do the dirty work now, all at once, made sense. Not all of his economic ideas have merit: His plan to radically increase health insurance costs for retirees less than a year after he encouraged workers to take early retirement is unfair. By and large, however, his restructuring is necessary in light of the tax cap.

That is small comfort for Anne Arundel County workers. But before they vent all their spleen, they should find Mr. Schaeffer's picture and save a few darts for him.

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