The politicians are happy: For sake of a tax cut in election year, schools and legal aid for the poor suffer.

May 28, 1998

BY LOWERING its "piggyback" rate from 50 percent to 48 percent of the state income tax, Howard County may have improved its attractiveness. Neighboring Montgomery and Prince George's counties have rates 12 percentage points higher. Howard's rate is so much lower than its neighbors one wonders whether the modest tax relief -- an average savings to taxpayers of about $51 a year -- is worth the cost to the county.

The tax cut is in the county's $398 million operating budget approved Tuesday. Also in that budget is an 8 percent increase in education funding. But the $199 million for schools is nearly $6 million less than educators requested to compensate for grossly inadequate budgets in recent lean years.

The County Council did give $3.5 million more to education than County Executive Charles I. Ecker recommended. It also restored plans rejected by Mr. Ecker to build a new high school near Fulton, where two large housing developments are to be constructed. But the Republican majority steadfastly refused to fulfill the school's budget request.

The council also refused to spend $50,000 requested by Mr. Ecker to reopen a Legal Aid office in the county. That item was removed when the council was trying to find more cash for schools. It seemed that it could have found such a small amount elsewhere in the budget. Instead, Councilman Darrel E. Drown ranted nonsense about lawyers, suggesting he doesn't believe poor people should have legal representation if they can't afford an attorney.

One hopes politics hasn't led the council to insist on an income tax cut while refusing to meet the schools' budget request or a local office for Legal Aid. But it is not unusual for politicians to seek votes by granting piddling tax cuts and spouting demagogy for fiscal responsibility at the expense of programs for the poor.

These are good economic times for Howard County. Revenue collections are up. The new budget reflects that in many ways. But not for schools and Legal Aid.

Pub Date: 5/28/98

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