This is how far Maryland has come in its budget crisis, in case you've lost track:
Last month, the governor huddled with legislative leaders and announced that he would cut $150 million in aid to local governments. The locals squawked, and demanded to be brought into the process.
This week, the governor huddled with legislative leaders and announced he would cut $147 million in aid to local governments, by making the locals pick up the state's contributions to the teacher pension fund. The locals squawked, and demanded to be brought into the process. Who said government can't get things done?
Gov. William Donald Schaefer promises to involve the local leaders in the deliberations, then holes up in Annapolis with the State House leadership. The foxes decide what's good for the chickens. And the local leaders get to learn about it in the newspaper the next morning.
The governor probably figures Baltimore City and the counties can't agree on what day it is, so he can't waste time involving them in the process. He is under the gun because nothing less than the state's credit rating for bond sales is at stake. Still, it's his duty to explain his course to the locals. The city and counties aren't happy about the size of the cut but are even less happy about the fact that the state hasn't said this is the end of it. Nor has Annapolis specified any existing state mandates it would consider excusing the locals from carrying out in exchange for the cuts.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. opined this week that it's right for the locals to foot the pension cost because they control the educators' salaries. Yet that's exactly the point the locals have been making during this crisis: They often must fund state programs out of their control.
For their part,Some county leaders have also irresponsibly aroused the Constituents by painting the governor's proposal as a raid on the schools. Local governments do not have to make the school systems eat all of this cut just because it is aimed at the state's contribution to the teachers' retirement kitty.
The governor's proposal may have merit, but it also shirks responsibility in terms of restructuring state government or its mandate to the jurisdictions. For all the smoke, revving engines and spinning wheels, the state budget crisis is stuck where it's been for months.