Recession lesson

Budgets: Baltimore County sensibly doesn't want to relive painful spend-slash cycle.

May 20, 1999

FLUSH WITH millions of dollars in revenue, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger is spending money, but not quite the way leaders in his position used to.

He does not propose adding a slew of programs staffed by new employees. Instead, he offers one-time expenditures -- from $3.2 million for new musical instruments for secondary schools to $156 million to repair school buildings.

The lessons from the past decade seem to have been learned. In the 1980s, when the county treasuries overflowed, local governments, including Baltimore County, ballooned with new programs and fattened payrolls. A recession hit, and spending had to be slashed, workers laid off and programs killed to balance budgets.

Now that times are good, it is gratifying to see some local governments that don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Mr. Ruppersberger's budget for fiscal year 2000 may be $74 million greater than the current one, but all the extra money is destined for one-time projects.

The idea is not to create recurring obligations. Mr. Ruppersberger wants to address specific areas of the budget that were pinched when revenues were tight.

His proposal is a counterpoint to the budget of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. Mr. Duncan's plan would increase spending by 7 percent and create positions and programs. He has been roundly criticized for plans to spend $223,000 annually to hire three inspectors and an administrator to teach residents how to properly install child-safety seats in automobiles.

If governments expand during recoveries, they will inevitably have to contract in recessions. The pain of that lesson shouldn't be lost on today's leaders.

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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