Schaefer says counties must help


Citing a growing inability of the state to provide many services it offers to Maryland's subdivisions, Gov. William Donald Schaefer warned today that local officials will have dig deeper into their own pockets for such programs as helping the homeless and promoting tourism.

The governor also repeated his pledge not to seek new taxes during the upcoming session of the General Assembly, although he said he was unsure whether he would veto any tax bills that may come across his desk at the end of the 90-day session.

"I got a mandate from the people not to make a tax increase," he said. "There will be no tax increase, at least for the present crisis."

Schaefer, who is in the midst of making what he called "painful" cuts to avoid a $423 million deficit in the state's general budget, chastised several jurisdictions for relying too heavily on state funds for local programs.

Specifically, he noted that while the state is providing $17,000 this year for homeless programs in the Eastern Shore communities of Caroline County, local officials have contributed nothing.

Schaefer said Somerset County, another Eastern Shore jurisdiction, also gave "absolutely zero" to services for the homeless while the state contributed $7,000.

"We're going to rewrite our thinking on that," the governor said during an informal meeting with reporters today in Annapolis. "We're going to look at our allocation of money."

While Caroline and Somerset counties have suffered economic hardships for years and have some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, Schaefer said, the jurisdictions must find ways to pay a greater share and to stop "looking to the state to handle their problems."

He suggested that one way counties could shoulder what he called a greater "maintenance of efforts" is to consider boosting their property tax rates.

The governor was less critical of Baltimore's financial assistance to the helpless -- about $700,000 this year -- because the city is in financial trouble. The state gave more than $2 1/4 million to programs for the homeless and to women's services.

Schaefer said he also plans to reduce state spending on local tourism, which he said is likely to affect incomes in many areas throughout Maryland.

Brushing aside suggestions that he is about to usher in a new form of "federalism" -- or a shifting of financing responsibilities from the state level of government to a lower tier -- the governor said hard times are making it necessary for more governments to share costs.

"If we had the money," he said, "I would continue" paying for such programs at the state level.

In other matters, Schaefer said he is seriously considering making a 40-hour work week the standard for state employees. Many state job holders now are required to work only 35 hours. He said such a move would lead to more productivity at less cost.

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