WHEREVER YOU live or pay taxes in this region, a local word to the wise about all the financial fussing over deficits and budget cuts: if your local government leaders are financially candid, they will keep on advising you of the cold fiscal facts--and the strong prospect that you will pay more in taxes and get less in services in the near future. The question is, how would you prefer to pay?
We would all prefer, of course, to believe those local officials who respond to deficit warnings by seeing red rather than red ink. John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, for example, is one. He has said that a report by the Greater Washington Research Center projecting a future county deficit is "full of baloney." And in the District, some of the budgeteers from government agencies are denying their own mayor's conclusions that they may be overspending their allotments.
Your average taxpayer is in no position to check each government's books and match the numbers with actual dollars spent or left over. But any local official who isn't preparing constituents for the possibility of a budget's coming up short is putting off or even aggravating future financial and political troubles.
That is why -- unpleasant though it may be -- it is significant that the county leaders in Montgomery and Prince George's are trying to cushion the impact of national and local economy pressures on their budgets and their taxpayers.
In Prince George's, county executive-elect Parris Glendening made no bones about the need for more revenue, urging even during his campaign that the voters approve a modification of the TRIM ceiling on property tax yields. The voters liked him but not that idea, and now he is talking with the voters and county and state groups about the political and financial possibilities of an increase in the sales tax for Maryland counties that choose to raise it.
In Montgomery, County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist has been making the civic rounds with a warning of hard times ahead, money shortages and possibilities for offsetting them. If nothing changes, he says, the county will incur a deficit, which perhaps can be covered this year by an existing surplus but which looms large in the following year. Should the property tax be increased? Or should there be some new and increased fees, such as a video games tax or more charges for recreation facilities, library services or health department fees?
Choices are going to have to be made, and politicians who put too much stock in a temporary surplus or see too much political embarrassment in the acknowledgment of a deficit are merely confusing their constituents and causing them to become jaded.