Lt. Gov. J. Joseph Curran and representatives from a dozen Maryland cities and counties trekked to Capitol Hill yesterday armed with charts, graphs and a dire message for Maryland's congressional delegation: Extend the federal revenue-sharing program past its September deadline or brace for drastic state property-tax increases and reductions in services.
Curran and the assorted municipal leaders--including Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, whose remarks were delivered via a cassette tape--called the program a staple of local budgets, which helps pay police officers, build fire stations, modernize police equipment and renovate school buildings.
For the most part, the pleas were heard by a supportive cast of federal lawmakers. Sens. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. and Paul S. Sarbanes are among 65 sponsors of legislation to extend the program for three years. Among Maryland's representatives in the House, only Rep. Clarence D. Long mumbled reservations before moving off to another appointment.
Maryland will receive $82 million from the program this fiscal year, with almost half of that being spent for public safety.
"It's a heck of a good program," said Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer, whose county will receive $6.8 million in revenue-sharing funds this year. "The only place you can make it up is the property tax, and the property tax just can't take anymore."
Montgomery County's current share is $8.5 million, which goes to the police department and schools. County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist said Montgomery would have to increase its property taxes by 10 cents to make up for the loss of those funds.
Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, who is grappling with a $35 million budget deficit, said "it would be a disaster" if his county lost its $11.8 million in revenue sharing. The county's tax limitation amendment (TRIM) precludes any property-tax increase.
Prince George's uses all of its revenue-sharing funds for its financially strapped school system, Glendening said. "Class sizes have increased; we bought no new books at all last year; we are suffering a major equipment deterioration," he said. If the $11.8 million is lost, he said, "we can only translate that as further service delays."
The city of Baltimore receives the largest cash injection from the program, $24 million, which, if lost, could mean an additional 58 cents on the city's property-tax rate, already the highest in the state. Mayor Schaefer, speaking on a cassette tape while television cameras filmed the bulky recording machine, told the delegation, "Revenue sharing is the cornerstone supporting many of the basic services of our citizens."
After the presentation, Sarbanes predicted easy passage of the revenue-sharing reauthorization bill.