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Local Governments: We're Not "Fat and Happy"

County and municipal leaders pledged cooperation today as they appeared before a panel of state lawmakers but also tried to make the case that their budgets are in dire straits, too.

"We're in this mess, I guess you would say, together," Harford County Executive David Craig (R) told the state panel. "The counties aren't fat and happy. We're not sitting on piles of money."

Craig, the incoming president of the Maryland Association of Counties, was among those who testified to the Joint Legislative Workgroup to Study State, County and Municipal Fiscal Relationships.

The panel, which was meeting for the second time today, is looking for ways to wean local governments from state dollars at a time when the state is facing major budget shortfalls. Aid to local governments accounts for about 40 percent of the state general fund budget, with most of that going to education. When the legislature reconvenes in January, that is expected to be a major topic of conversation.

Craig and county representatives said their governments have already laid off and furloughed workers, implemented hiring freezes and taken other steps to deal with sagging tax revenue and earlier rounds of cuts in state aid.

Scott Hancock, executive director of the Maryland Municipal League, told the state panel that municipalities took "catastrophic" cuts in state aid for roads and police over the summer.

"Cities and town in Maryland are hurting," Hancock said.

He said his organization will ask for additional authority from the legislature for muncipalities to raise revenue so that they are not as dependent on property taxes.

County leaders, meanwhile, suggested education funding, which has been largely protected during recent rounds of state cuts, be put back on the table. Craig said there are "non-educational aspects" of education funding where school systems can spend more efficiently.

By John Wagner  |  October 8, 2009; 3:19 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly , John Wagner , Maryland State Budget  
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