Glendening and the counties Mistrust runs high: Local leaders feel governor's actions don't jive with his words.

November 30, 1995

MISTRUST OF PUBLIC officials runs high among the general public, but what do you call a politician whom fellow office holders say they can't trust?

The credibility gap between Gov. Parris Glendening and leaders of many the state's largest subdivisions is unusually wide. "I can't trust him" is what the majority of them say in private. The source of that distrust stems from the fact that Candidate Glendening, then the head of Prince George's County, left his executive brethren under the impression he would "hold them harmless" from budget cuts if elected governor. Now they feel he has suffered selective memory loss.

The county executives' defense that they "already gave at the office" regarding state cuts in the early 1990s is weak. The effect of federal downsizing on Maryland's economy means the shrinking, privatizing and re-inventing of local government is hardly over. What really galls the counties, however, is not that the state would pass along federal cuts but that Mr. Glendening and the General Assembly would make themselves look good with a state income tax cut paid for through deeper cuts in local aid.

Ninety-three cents of every $1 of state aid goes to education. State leaders say they would only cut the rate of growth in school spending. But Maryland's student population is expanding rapidly. Combine that with the state's sluggish revenue growth and you have a situation rated as one of the worst in the country. If counties have to cope with slow revenue growth, more school expenses and big cuts in state aid, State House leaders could be severely undercutting local government.

Unfortunately for the local jurisdictions, they're dealing from weakness. General Assembly members are focused on balancing the state budget, not the counties'. And Mr. Glendening wouldn't be the first former local executive whose perspective changed upon moving to the Governor's Mansion. He has the misfortune of holding the office in an era of major downsizing. Income tax growth is poor and there's no recovery in sight for real estate values, the bedrock of local government finances.

Mr. Glendening must work to repair his relations with local leaders. That means telling them candidly where they stand -- and not making promises he might not be able to keep.

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