Brand New Game for the Locals

October 02, 1994

The 1994 Maryland gubernatorial campaign is uncharted territory for the leaders of the local governments in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Governor's races routinely feature major-party candidates who have either roots in the Baltimore region or at least a commitment to the levels of funding that officials have come to rely on. This year's race, however, offers an historic difference.

Area officials are uneasy about the choice between Democrat Parris Glendening, the Prince George's county executive whose first loyalty will presumably be to his home turf, and Republican Ellen Sauerbrey, who, despite her Baltimore roots, advocates budget cuts that could shift chunks of the state's fiscal burden to local governments.

Mrs. Sauerbrey insists that her pledge to reduce income tax rates by 24 percent, while maintaining $75 million in raises for state workers, will not harm the local jurisdictions -- for the first two years of a Sauerbrey administration anyway. Still, her critics see problems in the third and fourth years. Does her plan take into account such factors as inflation, the rising costs of basic government services and an expected drop in property tax revenue because of the delayed impact of the early 1990s recession on property assessments?

Voters who have fallen in love with Mrs. Sauerbrey's promised tax cut might be buying into a program of deferred taxes, a "pay now or pay later" proposition that in later years might force the local jurisdictions to raise their piggyback income taxes and property assessment rates.

The prospect of a Glendening administration is not quite so scary to many local government officials. For one thing, they say, the Democrat has run a large urban/suburban jurisdiction for 12 years. Yet he has proclaimed that suburban Washington is overdue for the governorship. And his lack of deeply rooted connections to the Baltimore area is a worry. Moreover, if he should win the election with a majority only in Baltimore City among all the area jurisdictions, he might be less inclined to look kindly toward the suburban subdivisions that surround the city.

As one local official said of the governor's race, "This is a brand new game for a lot of people in our area." A game whose outcome is an uncomfortably difficult call.

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