Prince George's Democrat Parris Glendening had successfully completed a two-year effort to become his county's next executive, but sprinkled among his victory speeches Tuesday night were words with a distinctly sober ring:
"To paraphrase Winston Churchill, who said 'I do not intend to preside over the liquidation of an empire,' " Glendening told reporters, "I do not intend to preside over the liquidation of services in Prince George's County."
Glendening had reason to temper his euphoria. Voters who handed him a more than 2-to-1 victory over his Republican opponent Ann Shoch also soundly defeated an effort to modify the county's limit on property tax revenue, leaving the county with one of the strictest tax caps in the nation.
Under present law, the county may collect no more than $143.9 million in property taxes each year. Although the modification proposal would have generated only about $8 million in new revenue in the first year -- a fraction of the county's half billion dollar budget -- some leaders of county employe unions are already forecasting dire cuts in services and layoffs of county employes similar to the firing of 500 teachers last spring. Glendening would not rule out the possibility of some layoffs of county employes.
One of Glendening's first major tasks after he draws up a budget this winter will be to lead negotiations with virtually all of the county's major unions, whose contracts expire next July. Under previous administrations, contract negotiations with municipal workers have evolved into bitter conflicts that helped limit each of Glendening's three predecessors to single terms in office.
Also, Glendening's job won't be made any easier by the fact that he will have to work with a newly elected County Council, about half of whose members consider themselves independent of--and even hostile to--the Democratic organization that put Glendening on the County Council eight years ago.
"I don't know why anybody would want the job," joked Thomas Kelly, Shoch's campaign manager, in an interview last week. "Whoever wins, they're in for the worst four years of their life."
Yet Glendening, a former two-term council member and a University of Maryland professor, does want the job. In an interview yesterday, as he relaxed at home, he repeated his campaign pledge to work cooperatively with various interest groups to find solutions to the county's fiscal problems.
"Everywhere we went we stressed certain issues," said Glendening, "commitment to public education, expansion of the police force, and maintaining the commitment to programs like aid to senior citizens and so forth . . . . And the message was extraordinarily clear in that the voters knew what I stood for and they knew what Plus-4 the tax modification amendment stood for. That tells me one simple sentence. They want the programs maintained but not funded by property tax."
To fund these programs, Glendening said, he would have to find "alternative revenue sources," a move that would have been necessary anyway, given the limited relief the tax modification measure would have provided. He also said he would elaborate on his ideas at a press conference later this week, and that finding revenue is one of the tasks he will assign to a transition team.
But just where Glendening will find this money is the subject of some debate, since many supporters of Plus-4 argued that its passage was crucial because other funding was simply not available.
Glendening said yesterday that he will approach the county's congressional representatives and delegates to the General Assembly to push for a reevaluation of the formulas under which the state distributes aid to counties. But Del. Gerard Devlin, a member of the Ways and Means Committee and one of the county's most senior delegates, said there is little the state will be able to contribute. "There will probably be an effort to provide a little more to the subdivisions, but there is not a strong pro-Prince George's feeling in Annapolis. The feeling is that, 'You guys adopted TRIM, now why should we bail you out?' "
Similarly, Rep. Steny Hoyer said at the county Democrats' victory party Tuesday night that, "clearly the federal government doesn't have a whole lot of money to get back to the local subdivisions, in terms of education aid."
Offsetting the bleak picture, Glendening said, should be the good working relationships he feels he has developed on the council and with labor leaders and public officials. Nevertheless, he said, "If we do not secure alternative funding and inflation keeps up, we're going to have layoffs. But I'm going to put the emphasis on the positive. We're going to secure alternative funding."