ONCE UPON a campaign time, Lawrence J. Hogan was telling voters that if they would elect him Prince George's county executive, he would cut millions of dollars from the budget.That was the year TRIM was born -- the amendment to the charter that freezes the amount of property tax that the county can collect. Picking up on the TRIM spirit, Mr. Hogan was criticizing his opponent Winfield M. Kelly Jr., who was maintaining that the budget could not be cut but was promising to hold future increases to 4 percent.
This little nugget of modern history is useful in noting the presentation this week by Mr. Hogan of the second budget since he took office -- which also is his second budget to show an increase in government spending. True, the increases in dollars have been well below the rates of inflation. And, if you factor in the margin for political hyperbole, Mr. Hogan's two fiscal exercises balance out reasonably well. What's fun to follow is the way -- ways, actually -- in which the county executive has talked about TRIM.
Right after TRIM and Mr. Hogan both won, the county executive dutifully pledged to make it work. In time, though, residents began to hear more complaints about the financial restriction. By last fall, Mr. Hogan was predicting dire problems for the county because of TRIM. Yet in still more time, he was singing the praises of TRIM to the county Chamber of Commerce, saying that if people asked him whether it should be repealed, his answer would be "No, resoundingly." Should it be modified? they would ask, and he would say, "No, not at the present time. Later, certainly. . . . TRIM has been the lash at our back that we politicians need."
And it only hurts when the state doesn't bail the counties out -- for the saving grace in Mr. Hogan's latest budget proposal is a $14-million increase in state financing for Prince George's. Says Mr. Hogan now, "Without state aid we would have been faced with a very, very serious problem." Yet Mr. Hogan was among those who appeared in Annapolis recently to testify in favor of ill-advised and, fortunately, rejected formulas to limit state spending.
So long as voters don't keep track of all that's said -- and until the dollar-flow from Annapolis ebbs -- Mr. Hogan may be able to have the best of both worlds. But as he has been saying every other time, TRIM is going to have to be modified. Citizens who recognize this financial fact already are organizing to make changes, and their efforts deserve strong -- and steady -- support from the county government.