ANNAPOLIS – Cuts in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s budget will cripple local government, state mayors said Thursday.
Ehrlich’s proposed cuts to the Highway User Fund and Program Open Space, two major sources of local revenue, will disable local governments, said members of the Maryland Municipal League.
City government works closer with its residents than county and state government, and it also faces the toughest decisions, said MML President Lynne Raufaste, mayor of Kensington. “Do we sacrifice emergency equipment for our first responders in order to fill potholes or do safe playgrounds and parks take precedence?”
Mayors from Annapolis, District Heights, Frederick, Havre de Grace, North Beach and Salisbury focused on their local traffic and quality-of-life travails.
Ehrlich’s proposal closes a more than $1.7 billion budget gap, in part by withholding about $12.3 million in highway fees. It also transfers $29.9 million from Program Open Space to the state’s general fund.
“When a governor inherits a $1.8 billion deficit tough choices are required,” Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said. “The governor has presented a balanced budget.”
Ehrlich, the state’s first Republican governor in three decades, won votes by promising not to cut aid to local government. Municipal revenues are slim and state funding is desperately needed, the mayors said.
“This highway user fee is money we paid in, and they’re going to take it away – not just this year, but next year also,” said Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty. “That is really tough for us to swallow.”
Traffic gridlock would also intensify under Ehrlich’s proposal, she said.
“The traffic congestion will be white-knuckle, jaw-clenching people screaming in their cars,” Dougherty said. “That’s why so many people voted for Ehrlich, because they believed he wold deliver on transportation.”
Open Space was a pet project of Ehrlich’s Democratic predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, designed to preserve land and improve quality of life.
Ehrlich also targeted the Community Parks and Playgrounds Program for elimination, to the detriment of area children, said North Beach Mayor Mark Frazer.
The state needs to better analyze where cuts and revenue come from before laying serious cuts on cities, Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer said.
“We’re the low man on the totem pole, nobody pays much attention to the municipalities,” Moyer said. “It’s kind of a no-win situation.” – 30 – CNS-1