The result of such niggling is that spending in Baltimore County has increased by less than half as much in the last decade as any other area county. Adjusting for inflation, per capita ongoing expenses in Baltimore County have grown by just 6.6 percent in that time, compared to 13 percent in Carroll, 13.1 in Howard, 13.5 in Anne Arundel and 20.5 in Harford.
Other counties are facing different pressures. Harford and Carroll counties are among the fastest growing in the state, leading to intense pressure for new schools and services. Anne Arundel voters approved strict tax caps a decade ago, limiting that county's ability to capitalize on rising property values. Baltimore County voters rejected a similar measure at the same time.
And Howard County is still suffering the aftereffects of the stock market decline, said budget chief Raymond S. Wacks. County leaders knew at the time that the massive increase in capital gains revenue they saw during the late 1990s wasn't sustainable and tried to plan accordingly. But the bubble was bigger and its bursting more painful than they anticipated, he said.
"Howard County's income tax rate can't be raised at this point - it's at its maximum level. The only other option would be cutbacks in spending or increases in property taxes," Wacks said. "I don't think the executive wants to contemplate increases in taxes. We've already gone that way."
Baltimore County has not raised taxes in more than a decade, but that doesn't mean Smith is any more eager to do it now.
"Baltimore County has, for the last 10 years, put out budgets that don't raise property taxes or income taxes and are perfectly balanced," Samuels, Smith's spokeswoman, said. "The state reaches a budget crunch because they have not been able to do the same thing, and they're asking us to absorb that. Our citizens expect this kind of fiscal management from us, and the state is not able to provide it."