Executive set to announce tax surplus Gary expected to say some of extra revenue should go to schools

As much as $20 million

Opponent Owens criticizes plan as election tactic

October 20, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary plans to announce Friday that as much as $20 million in surplus tax revenues found in a recent financial review should be used for education, public safety and construction projects, his campaign manager said yesterday.

His opponent in the Nov. 3 election, Democrat Janet S. Owens, blasted Gary for playing "budget games" by hiding the surplus and then throwing around millions to win votes before the election.

"I hope he does not do something as politically transparent as announce a huge budget surplus and then tell the parents and schoolchildren of this county that he is now going to restore cut programs," Owens said, adding that the Board of Education cut programs this spring because Gary didn't give as much money as members wanted.

Gary's spokeswoman, Lisa Ritter, said she was shocked to hear that Owens was so ignorant of the county's budget process that she would not know the county announces its surplus tax revenues every October.

It takes about five months after local taxpayers file their Maryland tax forms on April 15 to calculate how much money it should give local governments as their portion of the income tax, according to county officials familiar with the process.

Because income tax revenues rise and fall with the stock market, it is difficult for the county to predict exactly how much money it will receive in a year, Ritter said. The county usually makes conservative estimates to avoid a deficit if the economy turns sour.

Last October, a review of state income tax numbers revealed that the county had an unbudgeted surplus of $24 million, according to county data. In October 1996, the figure was $12 million.

The perhaps $20 million unbudgeted surplus Gary will announce Friday is on the high side for Anne Arundel County -- but it is smaller than the $30 million surplus Democratic County Executive O. James Lighthizer unveiled in October 1990, according to county figures.

George Shenk Jr., Gary's campaign treasurer, said he would not disclose the amount of the unbudgeted surplus Gary will announce at a news conference Friday. But he said it will be between $10 million and $20 million.

Shenk said he expects the county executive to propose that some of the money go toward school renovation and construction. The rest is likely to be used for nonsalary expenses such as building a library, Shenk said.

"It has been Mr. Gary's long-standing promise that when surpluses are generated, education will be one of the primary beneficiaries," Shenk said. "The possibilities include school maintenance, textbooks -- those kind of one-time expenses."

Carlesa Finney, president of the county's Board of Education, said her top priorities for the surplus would include fixing up run-down schools, improving computer education and eliminating restrictions on photocopies for students.

"If we don't fix up the leaking roofs and make desperately needed renovations to our schools, we are in big trouble," said Board of Education member Thomas E. Florestano.

The board received $20 million more from the county this year than the previous year, but it was not enough to keep up with the rising costs of health care and special education, said Greg Nourse, the board's financial officer.

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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