Santa Claus came to Towson yesterday. And darned if he didn't bear a strong resemblance to Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden.
As expected, Mr. Hayden's election-year budget proposal for fiscal 1995 seemed stuffed with as many goodies as Kris Kringle loads into his sack each Christmas. The $1.26 billion budget offers a 4 percent pay raise for county workers (their first in 3 1/2 years), 33 new police positions, an increase of $27 million to the local school system's budget, funding to open five public library branches on Sundays from October through March and an initiative to create what essentially would be the office of urban revitalization czar. And no new taxes.
Mr. Hayden and budget director Fred Homan attribute this year's bounty to 2.7 percent tax revenue growth that produced $14 million more than anticipated. But, of course, this apparent generosity is also owed to the fact that Mr. Hayden seeks re-election this fall.
The air was dense with election politics as Mr. Hayden gave his budget address in the County Council chamber before a full house that included the seven council members -- two of whom, Democrats Melvin G. Mintz of Pikesville and Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Timonium, hope to unseat Republican Hayden executive. Council Chairman William A. Howard IV of Parkville, moving to defuse a potentially edgy situation, took the unprecedented step of disallowing the custom whereby each council member responds to the address. Granted, the council members' bland responses usually aren't worth hearing. More than a few folks in the chamber were nonetheless disappointed they wouldn't see Messrs. Hayden, Mintz and Ruppersberger squirm through the response portion.
The council members will have sufficient opportunity during the next six weeks to pick at the Hayden proposal. However, all except one of them are likewise up for re-election this year, so they aren't likely to risk heat on the campaign trail by playing Scrooge with the budget.
Nor would they be wrong to consider this a largely reasonable proposal. For much of Mr. Hayden's term, a severe recession has caused the county's government, employees and citizens to tighten their belts more than they've ever had to in the past. Indeed, a lot of the "bounty" just manages to hold the line on certain services. It is needed and overdue in many areas. It looks like a Christmas-morning spread compared to previous Hayden budgets. But at first glance it amounts to partial catch-up for the deprivations of the last few years.
Still, it's more than enough to permit Mr. Hayden to make like St. Nick as he asks county voters for the gift of four more years in office.