Montgomery County, the richest in Maryland, pleaded poverty yesterday.
The occasion was the first public hearing of the commission appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to study whether the state's system of taxes makes sense and whether it is fair.
"I advise you that my comments will not be all positive," Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer said as he told members of the commission that some of its preliminary findings don't sit well with him.
Chaired by Silver Spring lawyer R. Robert Linowes, the commission, in an interim report, has suggested a reevaluation of the way state money is distributed because of the great differences in the wealth of the state's 23 counties -- with Montgomery on the high end and Baltimore at the lower end.
Montgomery County officials believe that means the state will cut funding to wealthy counties and transfer it to poorer ones.
Kramer said Montgomery is most worried about proposals to change the state's contributions to teacher pensions and Social Security and plans to make the piggyback income tax -- long considered a local tax -- a state tax.
While Kramer's tone was diplomatic, he made clear that Montgomery County would resist any changes in those two revenue sources.
Speakers, including advocates for the elderly, labor leaders for teachers, candidates for political office and business people, told the commission to look beyond the stereotype of Montgomery as a place of wealth and comfort.
"Montgomery County is viewed by many as an area of affluence. It is a fact that large number of residents are highly educated. Therefore, they have good jobs and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. However, it is also a fact that 78,500 residents are poor and 31,000 are considered very, very poor," said Carolyn N. Snowden, of the county Community Action Board.
"Montgomery County is facing continued problems in funding our infrastructure: our roads, our schools, our prisons, our police service and our fire service," said Kramer.
"We have fiscal problems," said Maysel Jackson, of the Gray Panthers.
Speakers conceded that places like Baltimore have problems and may need help. But the solution, they said, should not be retaliation against Montgomery and other counties.
Del. Judith C. Toth (D-Montgomery) advised the members of the commmission to heed the Hippocratic code taken by doctors " . . . above all else, do no harm."
Instead of changing the way taxes and other state money are distributed, speakers suggested increases in taxes. Kramer suggested that the commission consider changes in the sales and other use taxes. Council member Neal Potter attacked the state's income tax as being particularly regressive.
The commission will make its final report by Dec. 31.