City leaders assail Ehrlich budget's cuts

Bigger funding increase was expected for schools

January 26, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s proposed state budget is not going over well with some Baltimore leaders, who complain that it cuts aid to city government by $6 million and doesn't increase school funding as much as promised.

Ehrlich's spending plan cuts money for city parks, transportation for the elderly and disabled, police and fire services, health programs and libraries. It increases city school funding by $47.7 million - a record, according to the governor's aides - but that is less than what was expected under the Thornton education reform plan.

"The governor promised to fully fund the Thornton education reform plan, and he found a loophole to cut it. ... He also promised he wouldn't balance the state budget by cutting local funds, and for the second year in a row, he did exactly that," said Stephen J. Kearney, a spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"The results are pretty clear. Last year, working families in 13 out of the 24 counties got trickle-down tax hikes. This year, with this budget, there probably will be more," he said.

If the Thornton plan was fully funded, the city would receive $10 million to $12 million more than the $630 million allocated for schools in Ehrlich's 2005 budget, city officials said.

Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni said Baltimore should not look at the budget plan as a loss, given that combined state aid to the city and its schools is up 4.6 percent.

"I don't think you can say, `We got this much if you exclude this,'" Massoni said. "It's all part of the budget. It's a tremendous amount."

Massoni acknowledged that the city would feel some "pain" but said Ehrlich's $23.8 billion spending plan tackles the state's budget woes without raising taxes.

"We inherited a $2 billion deficit," he said. "I wish the mayor had been as vocal then [when the deficit was growing] as he is now. We're trying to solve the mess that was handed to us and we're doing it, and we're doing it with no new revenue."

Del. Salima Siler Marriott echoed complaints from the mayor's office, saying Thornton should be fully funded and that aid to the city should not be cut. She favors raising the state income tax to make that possible.

"All locals are taking a hit, and the city is not exempted," she said. "And to the extent that you're already operating at the margins, any hit makes it very difficult."

Del. Talmadge Branch, vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he was analyzing the budget plan and had not drawn any conclusions.

In Baltimore County, a spokeswoman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. declined to discuss the budget.

"It's too early for us to comment on the budget and how it may affect us," said the spokeswoman, Renee Samuels. "It still has to go before the legislature. There are items that can be changed, and our budget does not go in until April. There's still time for us to look at it and decide what may need to be done."

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