Two little-noticed measures that began making their way through the legislative process here yesterday seem to have even more support than motherhood. A total of 32 of the state's 47 senators have cosponsored the legislation, which would hold the spending increase of state and local governments to 7 percent annually.
"The concept is to keep some pressure on government, so officials will not feel compelled to spending everything that comes in," explained Sen. James Clark Jr., the chief sponsor of the legislation.
"It's not enough to have a constitutional amendment to balance the budget," he said. "You should set a spending target and then try to live within that."
Under the legislation, which had its first hearing before the Senate Finance Committee yesterday, if the economic growth of the state or the local jurisdictions exceeded 7 percent in a given year, the excess revenues would have to be applied toward a program to lower taxes.
The only possible other use for the funds under the Clerk legislation would be to pay for capital projects - thus doing away with the need for selling bonds and borrowing money at heigh interest rates for capital projects.
"This is what the public's been looking for. Assessments go up, so they pay more money to local governments. Now if the governments have extra money (above the 7 percent cutoff) they'll have to use it to cut their tax rate down."
Only one witness, a representative of Baltimore County, which has had exceptional economic growth in the past of few years, testified against the bill at yesterday's hearing.
Acting Gov. Blair Lee III this year proposed a $4.4 billion budget for the state, an increased of about 11 percent over the budget for fiscal year 1978. That budget represented a spending increase of about 9 percent over the previous year.
"Seven percent closely parallels the rate of inflation," Clark pointed out yesterday.
Responding to the criticism that the 7 percent ceiling in spending increase would take away flexibility from local and state government - which might have major expenses and declining revenues in a year of economic downturn - Clark said that the law easily could be changed to adjust to such an emergency.
Also, if a local government wanted to enact a program that would push its spending above the 7 percent ceiling, it could do so by obtaining voter approval for the program in a local referendum.
The 7 percent ceiling also would be adjusted slightly in the case of a county with a fast-growing population needing basic services from the local government.