It looks as though Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary and his $733 million budget proposal have ruffled a few feathers.
Last week, Mr. Gary sent a memo to County Council members urging them to support his budget and exhorting them to follow the example of geese, which support each other. At budget hearings this week, the executive's aides were greeted by honks of derision from council members who think some of Mr. Gary's spending ideas are for the birds.
How did Mr. Gary, the acclaimed fiscal wizard who helped wrestle state budgets into shape while serving on the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee for eight years, get himself into such a predicament? His budget proposal seems modest enough. He is asking for an increase in spending of only 2.5 percent -- the second-smallest increase in 30 years and less than the rate of inflation.
Mr. Gary's trouble is that he hasn't recognized the importance of making symbolic sacrifices. His overall budget is lean, but he wants to spend precious dollars on unusual new projects, such as a Glen Burnie ice skating rink. He has no money to give pay raises to most county employees, but he wants to give pay increases of up to $25,000 a year to his top aides. He is cutting the number of teachers the school board requested, but he wants to give consulting contracts worth $105,000 to three of his cronies and hire another friend to be his liaison to the police and fire departments -- a position that hasn't been filled since the days of County Executive O. James Lighthizer. And although he proposes cutting his office's budget by 1 percent or $14,000, Mr. Gary wants to spend more for travel -- an area normally targeted by determined budget cutters.
The County Council meanwhile is bragging about cuts it already has made in its budget and is offering to reduce spending by another 2.9 percent next year. The amount of overall savings isn't great, but the council intends to make cuts in every budget category. And recognizing the importance of symbolism, most council members have agreed to give up their county vehicles and to stop eating out at the expense of taxpayers.
Mr. Gary ought to follow the council's example. Or to use his analogy: What's good for the goose is good for the gander.