Budget Negotiations Continue – Large County Issues May be Taking Shape

Today’s coverage in the Washington Post details the two largest budget issues remaining, both of which directly affect county governments. Since the overwhelming share of the Senate’s long term budget cutbacks are in two areas, both reducing support for local governments, the conference committee’s approach to long-term fiscal issues is largely one about local government support.

From the Post article:

Although dozens of items remained unresolved Wednesday night, a final deal hinges on beginning to correct the state’s long-term budget imbalance, according to House and Senate negotiators.

The Senate last month passed a budget that calls for beginning to shift teacher pension costs to counties and eliminating indefinitely a pot of hundreds of millions of dollars typically sent to counties for local road projects. The House rejected the shift in teacher pension costs and voted to begin returning the road funding to counties in a couple years.

House negotiators on Tuesday signaled for the first time that they would be willing to partially roll back future funding for local road projects and would agree to set up a commission to study teacher pension costs.

Senate members of the budget conference committee, however, scoffed at that proposal, saying it barely grazed the state’s long-term deficit problem. The Senate budget would halve the state’s projected shortfall to $1.1 billion by 2015. The House version would leave it several hundreds of millions dollars higher.

With essentially two bargaining chips in the game, some senators believe they should get their way entirely with either road funding or pensions. And they seem to acknowledge the House lacks the votes to agree to the Senate version on teacher pension reform. So that leaves road funding, and on Wednesday night neither side seemed ready to budge.

It remains to be seen how long it could take the House and Senate to agree, in part because eliminating road funding is no small issue in an election year. House members are vulnerable in key districts where pothole politics could play a big part in November.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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