Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden asked the county's legislative delegation yesterday to support either a 10 percent increase in the piggyback income tax, or a plan to return proceeds from a state 1-cent sales tax increase to local jurisdictions.
Mr. Hayden told the delegation that under the best-case scenario, the county faces a $14.4 million deficit in the budget year that ends June 30, and a deficit of between $34 million to $48 million next year, depending on which legislative plan now under consideration is adopted.
The effect, Mr. Hayden said, would be the loss of 900 vacant positions beyond the 1,000 already eliminated.
He also told the delegates the county could not afford to hire new teachers for the 4,000 students expected in September, and that an estimated 450 current teaching jobs which will become vacant by September will not be filled. That would force public school classes with as many as 38 students.
(The countywide average class size would jump only from the current 24.5 to between 26 and 29 because special education classes usually are far below the county average, and many other county classes are larger.)
Mr. Hayden also noted that any major tax increase would only enable the county to avoid a huge deficit next fiscal year -- but would not provide any money for new programs.
Mr. Hayden indicated he has no plans to raise the county property tax rate next year, and he argued that the tax-protest movement of 1990 was aimed at the regressive property tax, not at a progressive income tax or a sales tax, which he described as a "user fee."
But tax protest leader John D. O'Neill disagreed. He said if the executive had really cut 1,000 county jobs this year, he should be able to weather a $50 million budget cut easily.
Mr. O'Neill, of Property Taxpayers United, said he is firmly against any new tax increases.
"No way," Mr. O'Neill said.
If the General Assembly passes legislation allowing the county to raise its share of the state piggyback income tax by 10 percent, the county could reap about $42 million in new revenue, Mr. Hayden said.
A 1-cent increase in the state sales tax, with the proceeds returned to the county, would produce roughly $55 million.
Several GOP county delegates said after the session they would support Mr. Hayden.
Dels. James Ports, Al Redmer and John Bishop said they don't believe Mr. Hayden exaggerated 1 'yes the county's problem.
As a result, they now are willing to back legislation that would give the county executive and County Council the power to raise the piggyback income tax from 50 percent to 60 percent.
"I would probably support enabling legislation for all the counties," Mr. Ports said, reflecting a common feeling among lawmakers that the state government has not cut the fat from its own budget, but is merely exporting its money problems to the counties instead.
"We can't just sit back and do nothing," Mr. Ports said.
Mr. Bishop said he has always supported giving local governments the power to control their own taxes.
Mr. Redmer was more hesitant, but said he supports increased flexibility for county government, which now is limited to raising the property tax rate to get new revenue.
But other Republicans in the delegation were not convinced.
Both Dels. A. Wade Kach and Robert L. Ehrlich said they aren't yet ready to concede that more taxes are the answer.
Both called for more cuts in state spending to restore some aid to the city and counties.
Delegation Chairman E. Farrell Maddox, an Essex Democrat, wasn't jumping on the income-sales tax bandwagon, either.
"When I see [Dels.] Ports and Redmer push green ['yes' votes], then I'll think about it," he said.
"They're out here every day demagoguing on the radio about no new taxes. They're not going to put us [Democrats] out on a limb and saw it off," Mr. Maddox said.