Facing a panel of experienced elected officials can be daunting, especially for those whose agencies depend on the government for financial support, but don't count Andrea Ingram among the intimidated.
After hearing uniform predictions of unrelieved budget doom and gloom from two state senators and three state delegates at a luncheon discussion sponsored by the umbrella group the Association of Community Services, Ingram, who has run the county's Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center and homeless shelter for the past 20 years, didn't mince words.
"The funding we get from the state is lousy in good times and bad," she said, pronouncing herself "a cynic" after long experience with state aid. County Executive Ken Ulman boosted local grants for human-service nonprofits by 45 percent in his first budget and hasn't retreated from those amounts, but the state, Ingram said, is another story.
"We have two state grants, and they've been flat for 20 years. I don't have any great expectations," she said, reacting to the discussion about how human service agencies can best work with state officials to minimize more cuts as Gov. Martin O'Malley looks for another $1.5 million to $2 billion to cut next fiscal year.
"We have people in shelter who shouldn't be in shelter in the first place," Ingram said. There are people with physical disabilities and others with mental illnesses for whom the state is not providing care, she said. "I don't feel at the state level that these are priorities," she continued, noting, "That's not really a question. That was my one big chance to say that. What are the state's priorities?"
Del. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat who is chairman of the county's house delegation, rose and said he would never vote to cut funds for the developmentally disabled, whose advocates are holding a series of public rallies this fall to forestall more cuts. The problem, he and others said, is more basic.
"None of us up here gets to control what goes in the budget. You have to get to the governor," he said. Guzzone, along with fellow Democratic Dels. Shane Pendergrass and Elizabeth Bobo and state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, shared the dais at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center on Nov. 18 with Republican Del. Gail H. Bates and state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman.
Kasemeyer, who is co-chairman of a legislative committee on state-local government relations, then pointed out his frustration with funding decisions.
"Our aid to counties has increased significantly, in double digits, while we've starved our own state agencies," he said. State workers are often paid less than county workers, and have seen more layoffs and furloughs, while counties have given cost-of-living and step pay raises to workers in many areas, including teachers.
"It's the flow of money to the counties, versus to state agencies" that's the real story, he said. The state's Thornton education aid program and boosts in Medicaid funding are costing $2 billion a year, he said. "You can't do everything as a state."
Kittleman then stood to criticize O'Malley's use of $3 million "to buy 1,000 acres of swampland in Dorchester County" at a time when human services are facing cuts. He noted an $800,000 cut of surplus funds from the Community Health Resources Commission as part of a long list of O'Malley cuts announced earlier this month.
"We have no opportunity to cut or add" funds, Kittleman said. That attack prompted a defense of O'Malley from Pendergrass, who said the state is doing far more for health care.
"I think he's trying to do things efficiently. I'd caution you not to accept simple, sound-bite criticism," she told the 80 people in the audience.
Bobo told the group they must deliver a simple, uniform and consistent message to the governor not to cut human services.
"Give the same message, no matter who you're talking to," she said.
Bates, who began her political career as a county official working for then-Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, said the state often creates expensive programs meant to fix problems in a few key jurisdictions but uses a "one-size-fits-all approach." She pointed to the all-day kindergarten program as an example.
Earlier, Kittleman said the state should modify if not eliminate the maintenance-of-effort rule for schools, which requires the same amount of spending per pupil each succeeding year as a base in order to qualify for state aid.
"It has to go up because the number of students goes up," he said. The rule takes away a county's incentive to be efficient and find savings, he added. Kasemeyer, the Senate majority leader who serves on the budget and taxation committee, predicted a modification of the rule that might allow counties in crisis to reduce spending by up to 5 percent under maintenance of effort.
All the legislators generally agreed that fiscal 2011 will be a very tough budget year, with cuts across the board to almost everything.
"There aren't any easy answers," Kasemeyer said. "It's going to be very difficult."
Kittleman agreed. "Sen. Kasemeyer hit it right on the head," he said, and Bates added, "Ditto."
"The truth of the matter is that everything is getting cut. We have gone along for years trying to hold everyone harmless, but we're coming to the end of short-term fixes," Pendergrass said.