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Cutting culture

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

There is much lamentation in the counties over the fiscal state of the city. Yet while the rhetoric of regionalism now has become politically correct, hardly anyone is willing to take the tough step -- to pitch in for some of the attractions that are enjoyed by people of the entire metropolitan area but happen, coincidentally, to be located in Baltimore city.

The National Aquarium is a case in point. It recently increased admission prices to a hefty $11.50 for adults and $6.75 for children. The reason? Increased operating costs.

Yet while the costs of running the aquarium have skyrocketed, support has waned. Baltimore County, for example, kept constant its contribution for the fiscal year beginning July 1 (a decrease in real dollars). And this was the best performance. Anne Arundel Executive Bob Neall recommended a 50 percent cut in money for the aquarium -- from $50,000 to $25,000, and the council approved it. Howard County cut its grant to a paltry $12,600 -- from a not very impressive $15,000 this year.

Such ambivalence about the arts and cultural institutions of the city is stitched through the county budgets in their contributions to the zoo, the Science Center, the BSO, Center Stage, the City Life Museum and the Walters Art Gallery. Baltimore County, which contributed the most by far -- $1.2 million -- still reduced its grants for next fiscal year from what it had provided this year. Worse was Howard County's effort; its entire contribution to city arts and cultural institutions was less than $100,000 for next year -- a cut of nearly $20,000 from this year. Arundel tailored a similarly parochial budget. Though Executive Bob Neall proposed $163,000 for the city (a reduction from $225,500 this year), the council slashed the allocation to $102,750. These numbers hardly represent regional responsibility.

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