IT MAY COME as an ugly surprise to those who fell for the cut-now, pay-later tax policies of certain local politicians in Maryland, but now that Annapolis is feeling the pinch, the counties are sure to get squeezed. That's why, for example, we're now hearing a different tune from Larry Hogan and the Trimsters in Prince George's County. Having made much of cutting the property tax rate by 35.5 cents -- thanks to the long-green goodness of the state, which had a surplus to spread around the counties -- Mr. Hogan now warns that hard times are coming.

Maybe it's just as well to revel in times of surplus and not worry about groveling until the money is blown, but after a certain amount of this roller-coaster budgetry, taxpayers may well get sick of being teased. And if things look tight now, wait until next year -- July 1, to be precise -- when every public employee contract in county is scheduled to expire. So far, Mr. Hogan hasn't specified what sort of increase he might be willing to provide, except to say it would be "modest."

That sounds fair enough, but wishing won't make it so; given the county executive's past inepitude when it comes to negotiating, some specifics would help. Taxpayers also might benefit from some indications of what services or how many government jobs Mr. Hogan may be thinking of cutting in the future. And if he plans to go hat in hand to Annapolis again next year in search of more state aid, Mr. Hogan might suggest where the state should curb its spending or raise taxes.

Before responding to any plea from Prince George's, Gov. Harry Hughes and the state legislators may wish to know, too, whether Mr. Hogan or others in the county are willing to support some easing of the TRIM amendment restrictions -- since therein lies part of the hard times ahead for the county. There is nothing wrong with a little warning of financial bad news, but this red-ink alert doesn't exactly come out of the blue -- and neither should a county executive's proposal to cope with it.