Hayden Takes Care of Business

April 16, 1994

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden surprised few people with the fiscal 1995 budget proposal he unveiled last Thursday. As expected in a political year, the $1.26 billion budget package was loaded with expenditures that could make the campaign trail less bumpy for Mr. Hayden as he seeks re-election this fall.

Among the goodies are a 4 percent pay raise for county workers (their first in 3 1/2 years), 33 new police positions, an increase of $27 million in the local school budget, funding to open five public library branches on Sundays from October through March and an initiative to revitalize the county's urban areas. And, surprise of surprises, not one new tax would be required to help foot the bill.

The administration's political agenda aside, much of this new spending is needed and overdue. The recession of the early 1990s forced the county's government, employees and citizens to tighten their belts as they never had to before. The physical condition of many county schools has deteriorated badly. The police force is down some 200 officers. Inner-Beltway communities edge closer to city-style blight. Although the budget proposal only holds the line on many services, Mr. Hayden is right to address these problems in his proposal.

Yet this budget needn't be any different from previous ones in that the County Council should examine it closely and make necessary alterations. But remember, this is the same council that rubber-stamped Mr. Hayden's last budget. What's more, two council members plan to run against Republican Hayden for executive, while another four are up for re-election this year. Even if they wanted to cut into the proposal, they might be restrained by the knowledge that doing so would likely bring them grief from the various constituencies pleased by the Hayden offerings.

That's too bad, because parts of this budget should be questioned. For example, the plan to let firefighters retire after 25 years of service could become a compounded expense that will have future county executives cursing Mr. Hayden's name. As a recent Wall Street Journal story noted, funding public pension plans will be one of the biggest fiscal problems of the coming decades. Already it's a major headache, with state and local pension plans nationwide more than $125 billion in the red. If Mr. Hayden must make peace with firefighters, he ought not do it in a way that eventually causes the county more harm than good.

In an election year, though, today matters far more than tomorrow. The county executive's latest budget proposal would take care of some long-neglected ills, but perhaps not as well as it would take care of Mr. Hayden's bid for another term.

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