Sharing the Fiscal Burden


As Gov. William Donald Schaefer puts the state budget under an exacting microscope to find ways to balance this year's spending plan (still off by $243 million) and next year's plan (off by another $204 million), he is discovering inequities that ought to be corrected. Some counties, for instance, are not doing their part to help their own homeless and needy families: they are letting the state put up all the money for them.

Three small counties -- Caroline, Somerset and Garrett -- don't spend a penny of local tax dollars on programs for the homeless. They rely completely on state grants. Yet the problem is a local one in which local governments ought to participate in providing relief. The reluctance of some counties to do so has prompted Mr. Schaefer to question their commitment to these programs -- and to suggest that counties and towns be forced to shoulder some of the fiscal burden.

This would not be a cruel or onerous task. In Somerset County, for instance, the state's homeless grant is $7,000. Surely, local officials could come up with a 10 percent or 20 percent match. Otherwise, the county's commitment to helping the homeless is open to question. Lawmakers in Annapolis may become increasingly reluctant to approve such grants unless local officials are doing their share to help, too.

Requiring a minimal local match to gain state social service grants would force counties to share fiscal responsibility with the state. Officials would have two choices: Ignore the problem as though it did not exist in their county, or become a true partner in solving it. Objections from county representatives ring hollow. There is no excuse for failing to help the dispossessed and those in greatest need. Passing the buck to the state isn't an acceptable response. All counties have to play a bigger role in becoming part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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