The April 20 Sun editorial regarding the maintenance of effort law ("Leopold's accounting trick") requires a response.
As a member of the House of Delegates 25 years ago, I sponsored legislation, which was enacted, that strengthened the maintenance of effort law, and I have long been aware of the spirit of the law that local government should use state dollars to supplement, not supplant, county funding. The law, however, runs headlong into the harsh reality in Anne Arundel County where over the past six years the Board of Education budget has increased 17 percent while all other county agencies' budgets, in the aggregate, have decreased 7 percent. Clearly, my administration has a responsibility to adequately fund all agencies of county government to ensure that the quality of all governmental services is maintained.
In the recently submitted fiscal year 2013 budget, we again maximized the revenue permissible under the voter-imposed tax cap in order to help fund essential services. The failure to raise the rate as far as the cap allows, as was done by a previous Administration, would reduce the revenues available in future years.
The budget I recently submitted to the County Council included money for 62 additional teachers and funds the entire Board of Education request, minus nearly $34 million for employee raises. We cannot in good conscience fund raises for school employees when the most that can be done for other county workers is to end their furloughs. Last year, when county employees faced salary reductions for the second year in a row, the school board insisted on giving pay raises to school employees, in spite of the strong opposition of the administration and the council. The additional money sought by the School Board for fiscal 2013 is clearly for salary increases. The school officials will assert that they negotiated salary increases in "good faith," but how is it "good faith" when they were told prior to the negotiations that the county would not fund these pay increases?
It should be noted that since the introduction of the Thorton Commission's "Bridge to Excellence Program," Anne Arundel County has increased its unrestricted funding for K-12 education by over $194 million and a total of $207 million in excess of the minimum funding required during that decade. This translates into $1.94 for every $1 the county was required to provide under state law.
The Sun faults the county for using debt service to help meet the maintenance of effort requirements, while acknowledging that the use of debt service was approved by the attorney general. On the substance of the issue, not the letter of the law, no one can deny that school construction and state-of-the-art, modern facilities are an integral part of a quality education that enhances student performance. It was, therefore, fitting and appropriate to use debt service to meet maintenance of effort requirements, even though that is no longer authorized and was not utilized in my fiscal 2013 budget.
I strongly concur with the views expressed by a veteran state senator from Montgomery County who voted against the changes to the state's maintenance of effort law in the recent legislative session. The senator stated that the legislation sets a dangerous precedent by allowing the state to invade county tax revenue and use it to its will rather than respect the autonomy of local government decision making.
John R. Leopold, Annapolis