63 Legislators Ask Hogan Not to Implement Trump Coal Pollution Standards

Trump’s effort to weaken clear water protections from coal are coming home to Maryland. At issue are three coal-fired power plants that would dump toxic waste into the Chesapeake Bay. Under President Obama’s proposed rules, the plants would have had to make improvements to better protect the environment to renew their permits. Trump has ended those protections. Will Hogan go with Trump or the Bay on this one?

Maryland Coal Letter by David Lublin on Scribd

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BREAKING: Dana Beyer Running for Senate

Looks like Jeff Waldstreicher isn’t going to waltz into the Democratic nomination for the open seat being vacated by Sen. Rich Madaleno, who is running for governor. Dana Beyer let it be known last night that she’s running.

A former eye surgeon and aide to one-term Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, Dana has sought election unsuccessfully before in District 18, twice for delegate and last time challenging Rich for Senate. She’s built name recognition, is independently wealthy and willing to spend it on a serious campaign. There is no love lost between Dana and Jeff, so expect this to be tough-fought contest at the very least.

Jeff will expect interest groups to go with him as the established incumbent legislator and work aggressively to persuade them that he will win so they should back him, Dana’s entry provides interesting opportunities for groups that feel Jeff has been insufficiently supportive or doesn’t have their back when push comes to shove and want to send a warning.

Dana has been working hard to organize a slate with candidates for delegate. It will be interesting to see if Jeff does the same and whether and how candidates for delegates choose to plump. I’m sure many will be watching Del. Al Carr, who has built a constituency the district’s municipalities–he was formerly a Kensington Councilman–as well as neighborhood associations and civil activists. There are dangers in joining either camp but also in remaining unaligned.

Fasten your seatbelts District 18, it’s going to be a wild ride!

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BREAKING: Prince George’s Teachers Walk Out on Rushern Baker at MSEA

At the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) Convention, Rushern Baker’s camp teachers from Prince George’s County, Rushern Baker’s home county, walked out when he was called to the podium. According to its website, MSEA is the largest union in the state and represents over 75,000 public school employees.

That’s all the information I have for now.

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Correction: Raskin Did Not Endorse Waldstreicher

In an analysis earlier this week, I stated mistakenly that Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD 08) had endorsed Del. Jeff Waldstreicher in his effort to win the open District 18 Senate seat. Since then, I’ve learned that Rep. Raskin has told numerous candidates that he not endorsing, at least for now, in open seat races.

I contacted Jamie to confirm this. He explained that he had attended Del. Waldstreicher’s event, organized originally when Jeff was running for reelection to the House, and said some nice things about him but had not endorsed him or any other open-seat candidates at this time. I apologize to Rep. Raskin for the error.

The reason I thought Jeff had been endorsed was a multiplicity of Facebook posts and emails like this:

Del. Waldstricher did not contact me to correct the record after I posted that he had been endorsed by Rep. Raskin. Jeff is certainly not the first candidate to use quotations that make it easy for voters to infer stronger support than exists. But it does feed into criticisms of Jeff voiced by his General Assembly colleagues.

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They Just Don’t Get It

After Adam Pagnucco’s terrific and thought-provoking post from yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with Councilmember Nancy Floreen on Facebook. A very smart and knowledgeable former Council President who is happy to defend her record, the conversation was inadvertently helpful to me in understanding why term limits passed so overwhelmingly.

They Don’t Get It. At All.

Voters didn’t quite say “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. . . Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” in the manner of Oliver Cromwell to the Rump Parliament (repeated famously by a Conservative MP to Neville Chamberlain). But a 70% vote in favor of term limits is pretty darn close.

Yet, reflecting a common view on the Council, Nancy Floreen ascribes no meaning to the vote whatsoever, including viewing it as a vote against the status quo (see full Facebook exchange here). In short, there is now a yawning gap between how councilmembers see their work and the County government, and how voters see them.

This ostrich-like response on term limits–and even though I voted against them and really like and respect Nancy, I don’t know what else to call it–vividly demonstrates this distance and why voters supported them.

The Divorce

On reflection, I realized that something fundamental has changed about how voters see the County government. When I was a more of whippersnapper, people had a much more positive view of the County government. Yes, people paid a lot in taxes but the results were visible in terms of quality services from excellent schools to parks to libraries that made it a great place to raise kids.

People are now much more divorced from their County government–and not just because out population has doubled. Traffic, always bad, is now far worse. We’ve gone through a long period in which taxes have gone up but visible outputs in terms of those excellent services, such as libraries, are going down.

People even worry increasingly about the quality of our beloved school system and whether they’re getting value for money. Metro is no longer spanking new but decaying and dysfunctional. Other infrastructure from electric wires to gas lines to water mains needs replacement.

Why Did Voters Want to Throw the Bums Out?

Many of the problems that the County faces have little to do with its current membership. At least part of the term limits vote stems from having gone through a tough period when difficult, unpopular choices had to be made. And yet, the reasons that voters decided to make the psychological trial separation from the County a full-scale divorce via term limits go beyond that.

The Bubble

County Councilmembers are insulated from the public unless they make a strong effort. The highly symbolic locked door that prevents the plebeian masses from even entering their offices is just the start of it. Staff insulates councilmembers from the public, both by fielding calls and answering email.

Besides naturally supportive staff, councilmembers get a lot of positive feedback from visitors. After all, people lobbying for something tend not to want to alienate the Council. After 12 or 16 years, who wouldn’t be changed by that?

Two Electorates

Roughly 10% of eligible voters participate in the Democratic primaries that elect our local officials. Turnout in Montgomery has been stagnant, so politicians focus on the increasingly small share of people who participate in these contests.

The focus on the odd few of us who vote consistently in Democratic primaries leaves the rest feeling disengaged from politics, as politicians sensibly don’t reach out to them at election time because it won’t help them win.

It also leaves politicians with a pretty warped sense of what the average voter wants because the few who participate in primaries of either party tend to be more extreme than not just the average voter but also the average member of their party.

Term limits was one of the few ways that the other 90% could express dissatisfaction with local officials in a meaningful way other than casting a symbolic vote for a Republican, a brand tarnished by national Republicans that mostly fields weak or even nutty candidates here.

Confusing Congress and Local Government

Too many members of the Council seem to want to be national legislators and opine on the great national issues of the day. Increasingly, this creeps into legislation with more time spent on issues away from core functions.

I miss those wonderful ads with Doug Duncan taking out a voter’s trash. To voters, this said that he got it. One reason County Executive Ike Leggett was able to turn back challenges to his leadership despite being the man in charge at a difficult time was that (1) he showed an unusual capacity for listening at events around the county, and (2) he responded to voters with not just deep fluency on local issues but also a respect for voter concerns. At a town hall meeting with Ike, voters always felt heard.

Property Taxes

Most people’s salaries have been stagnant. Nonetheless, the County raised taxes by over 9%. At a time when many voters find it hard to live within their means, the County made it harder by increasing taxes. As it turns out, berating voters that they don’t care about schools or social justice if they feel this way doesn’t work.

In other words, it is time for the County to start to figure out how to live within its means. Maybe this means tax reform of some sort–no, not in the guise of a massive tax cut like federal Republicans–such as eliminating loopholes that help some but not most of us. Councilmember and County Executive Candidate Marc Elrich made a good start by highlighting an old post by Adam on a tax break for country clubs. But it may also mean taking on labor to rein in costs, actions Councilmember Roger Berliner or Del. Bill Frick, also running for executive, are more likely to do.

The tax argument for term limits was made especially effective by the 28.1% pay increase that the Council voted to award itself in 2013. The Citizens Commission report had recommended a 17.5% increase in one year plus COLAs. That would’ve given the Council a 17.8% increase through 2016 based on the CPI for the Washington-Baltimore region. Comparing annual wages per employee in Montgomery County from 2013 and 2016 reveals that private sector wages have risen just 7.6% in current dollars.

The People v. The Powerful

Monied interests are way better at working Rockville than the rest of us. While members of civic associations are part-time volunteers who are not always up on the latest in ZTAs (zoning text amendments), developers and other powerful interests have expensive lawyers who know how to work the process.

This critique is very different than rich v. poor because the problem affects neighborhoods across the County. Developers and other interests can afford lawyers who can navigate them through the process and leave neighborhoods feeling powerless.

Social Engineering

This intersects with the social engineering tendencies of both the Council and the Planning Board. Personally, I think smart growth is generally a great thing that builds urban nodes like Silver Spring, Rockville and Bethesda where many people want to live or to spend time.

At the same time, it needs to be done with sensitivity and awareness of existing neighborhoods. Most people moved out here for the suburban lifestyle of a house and a yard. They don’t appreciate being told that they’re outdated and even being demonized for caring about their neighborhoods and worrying about whether the infrastructure can handle the growth.

Moreover, those who have lived here a long time have a healthy suspicion of urban planners. In the 1970s and 1980s, these are the same people who told us that elevated urban plazas behind office buildings were the wave of the future. Total disaster.

I think they’ve got it more right this time with smart growth. But carrying it out in such an ideological manner that dismisses neighborhood concerns alienates the people who are supposed to be served. Downcounty residents are mighty tired of hearing patronizing talk of how much they’ll like that new 30-story building looming across the street from their home. Or that traffic is good because it will force us to ride the decaying Metro that doesn’t take us to the supermarket.

Upcounty residents really do want some of those promised roads built and are real tired of begging. If you don’t believe me, check out the hundreds of petition signatures submitted by upcounty citizens (see below) who are deeply unhappy that Councilmember Hans Riemer’s proposed resolution on traffic solutions for the area drops the M-83 extension of the Midcounty Highway.

Put another way, start treating smart growth like a very good idea to be pursued in concert with residents rather than a new religion desperate to burn some heretics. The Council made a good start with the Bethesda Master Plan. It wasn’t perfect but it was a good process so kudos, especially to Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer. But concerns have already arisen that development will go beyond what is in the plan, as developers and their lawyers are already working the process.

Ferment in the Land

So yes, it’s definitely “a time for a change” election. Yet, we may end up with a crowd that has much the same views as the previous one but voters will welcome the change of faces. And, who knows, new faces may bring some good new ideas and approaches.

Here’s hoping.

M-83 Petition Signatories 101717 by David Lublin on Scribd

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Where Are We Going?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Your author has written over a thousand posts over the last decade about state and local politics.  Some of those posts were tough.  Some called out elected officials by name and others took strong positions on issues that were unpopular with some.  But none of them provoked a more negative reaction from the political establishment in Rockville than our three recent posts on the history of MCPS funding.

Those posts did not contain ad hominem attacks.  They relied on budget data to make a point: the county restricted local funding for public schools for seven straight years and relied on state aid to fund the school system until property taxes were raised last year.  We then recommended that the school system get small, steady per pupil increases to deal with their needs financed by restraint in the rest of the budget.  This was not enjoyed by the officialdom in Rockville.  Terms were used like “misleading,” “distortions,” and “over the top.”  But in the end, the response from Council Member Nancy Floreen wound up confirming, not refuting, much of what we wrote.  There is no real disagreement over the facts of the matter; the budget data tells the same story no matter how it is read.  There is only disagreement over how those facts are characterized.

All of this provokes a thought.  Everyone reading this post has suffered a huge defeat at some point in their lives.  What does one do?  Well, after regaining consciousness and asking, “What the hell happened?” many people try to reconstruct what led to the defeat and assess the various factors that contributed to it, including self-inflicted wounds.  Then a resolution is made to avoid repeating those mistakes in the future.  Sure, we often mess up again.  But sometimes we learn and improve.

For the Rockville political establishment, the 40-point passage of term limits was that moment of huge defeat.  It was the biggest voter revolt since two consecutive County Councils were thrown out in the 1960s.  Where is the self-reflection and soul searching in the wake of that moment?  We’d like to see someone in government say, “Here’s what we learned from term limits.  Here’s what will be different going forward.”  Anyone who does that would deserve great respect.

Your author speaks regularly to candidates who knock on doors.  There is considerable diversity in the views of the voters.  Development is one issue provoking different opinions.  “We need more jobs.”  “We are overdeveloped.”  “We need more affordable housing which is why we need to stop all this building!”  (Yes folks, that was an actual quote from a MoCo voter!)  But there is also a bit of unease.  “My kid’s school is crowded.”  “I pay more in taxes but I’m not getting more in return.”  “I’m having problems affording the cost of living here and I’m worried that my kids won’t be able to afford to live here.”  “The county doesn’t listen to me.”  These are not tea partiers or Trump supporters; these are Democrats who regularly vote.  This isn’t hatred of incumbents.  But lots of folks are asking the same question.  Where are we going?

The interest groups in the county are asking the same thing.  None of them feels content.  The business community, the labor folks, the PTAs, the Realtors, the civic community and the rest of them are all uneasy and some are downright unhappy.  They have more in common than they believe.  What happens when they start talking to each other?

The 2018 election will not be a normal event.  It occurs in the context of a stagnant economy, a school system in desperate need, a tight budget, abject failures in the White House and Capitol Hill and voter rejection of the status quo.  We haven’t seen anything like this in decades.  The good news is that the candidate field is outstanding.  Some of the incumbents have tremendous experience and substantial achievements in their records.  All of them who were in office in 2010 can claim credit for saving the county from complete fiscal disaster.  The non-incumbents are smart, energetic, diverse and gifted in life experience.  Many of them would make great elected officials.

But we need something more.  We need to ask: where are we going?  And where should we be going?  To do that, we have to honestly assess where we’ve been – even if it means breaking a few eggs – and then figure out how to move forward.  It’s not easy.  As the incumbents will tell you, the constraints are real.  Do you want to give more money to the public schools?  Fine – then understand the state’s maintenance of effort law and be prepared to raise taxes or control spending elsewhere in the budget.  Do you want to improve the economy?  Fine – then avoid increasing the difficulty of doing business in the county, especially when it comes to employer costs and predictability.  Do you want to increase incomes?  Fine – that involves a discussion of rebuilding the working and middle classes through encouraging collective bargaining.  Do you want to increase funding for school construction?  Fine – then you need to find new revenue or be prepared to restrain the rest of the capital budget.  Do you want to help immigrants and people of color?  Fine – then be attentive to the needs of small businesses, which in this county are dominated by owners who are immigrants and people of color.  Do you want to close the achievement gap?  Fine – get ready for some difficult discussions about housing policy.  We could go on and on.

These discussions are necessary for us to move forward.  They must be honest.  They must be driven by data, not ideology.  And they must not spare political sacred cows.  Because if we don’t figure out where we are going, we will wind up in one place.

Nowhere.  Nowhere at all.

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Can Waldstreicher Nail Down the D18 Open Senate Seat?

Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) has acted fast to lock down the open senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-18), who is running for governor. Jeff is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and thus this very safe blue district, but openings nevertheless remain for the right candidate.

Advantages

Jeff has a solid advantage in name recognition. He has won three terms to the House. More voters begin to recognize state legislators, who often remain obscure to their constituents, after three campaigns and ballot appearances.

No one I know is more tenacious or focused when it comes to campaigns. Jeff won his first election in 2006 against a very tough field with just one open seat. Besides successful fundraising, Jeff won the endorsement of MCEA, in part by arguing convincingly that he was going to win and they should back him.

Jeff is also fortunate in having an extremely supportive family. In past races, they have had his back not only financially but also doing whatever they can to help out from cheering him on at debates to volunteering on the campaign.

Jeff possesses enviable fundraising skills. I have never met anyone more relentless in pursuing a campaign donation and the results show in his impressive bank account balance of $165,491 according to his last campaign finance report. This sort of war chest not only aids victory but deters potential opponents.

Jeff has already secured and vocally touted the valuable endorsement of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), a local progressive icon. No doubt he is also pursuing the endorsement of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, which he has received in the past for the House.

Interest groups are likely to back Jeff, if only because he is an incumbent with a record they can assess. They also tend to want to back the winner to avoid alienating a future senator and will naturally perceive him as the heavy favorite. Jeff will not be afraid to pressure any groups that may hesitate.

Potential Openings for Challengers

For all of these advantages, Jeff has vulnerabilities that could tempt a well-funded candidate.

Jeff does not have an especially strong political base in the district. While he has easily gained reelection as part of the D18 team, I have yet to identify groups within the district who passionately support him and see him as their champion.

The perception that Jeff is unwilling to take firm stands on controversial issues hinders his ability to win avid supporters. Politicians naturally desire to avoid offending voters, but taking stands in tough fights is precisely how many politicians gain supporters who stand by them through thick and thin.

The same problem plagues Jeff’s relationships within the General Assembly. Even in a business known for back-stabbing, inhabitants of Annapolis-land are astonishingly willing to volunteer privately their lack of trust, and even dislike. They see Jeff as very transactional and attentive to his own ambitions but not especially hardworking or responsive to his colleague’s needs.

These weaknesses, however, give opponents less of an opening than may appear. Challenging a legislator on the basis of his effectiveness, rather than issues, is a proven way to lose a campaign. Moreover, regardless of their opinion, viewing him as the probable winner, his colleagues will likely line up to offer support and give a friendly quote for the press.

Like all politicians, Jeff is good at touting his support for popular positions and claiming credit on having voted for broadly supported bills passed by the General Assembly from marriage equality to additional funding for school construction. Occasionally, however, he takes it a bit far. Jeff routinely boasts that he is “fiscally responsible” because he “voted for a balanced budget.” Jeff never had the opportunity to do otherwise because the Maryland Constitution mandates balanced budgets. While this sort of false piety grates, opponents will only be able to use to their advantage if they can find a way to use it to feed into a larger portrait of Jeff as yet another inauthentic long-term politician.

Moreover, as a three-term legislator, Jeff has a couple of substantive achievements under his belt. His website mentions that he was the lead sponsor on legislation making possession of child porn a felony, and a ban on texting while driving. Both are easily understood, popular positions, and thus highly amenable to quick, effective campaign communication.

I asked Jeff last week via email how he got interested in these issues and to detail the leadership he showed in passing these bills, or on other issues not mentioned on the website, but did not receive any written answers for quotation.

Though I don’t think campaign websites matter a heck of a lot, his current website could nevertheless punch up his message, as it now highlights banal boilerplate that is about as convincing as ersatz coffee such as “As a father, husband, and life-long resident of Montgomery County, I am committed to the safety of our neighborhoods. I will continue to be a strong advocate for our families.” – Jeff on Safety.

Potential Opponents

Dana Beyer is the obvious candidate. She is seriously considering entering the race and rumor has it that she is trying to put together a slate.

A former eye surgeon and aide to one term Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, Dana has been hungry to win a seat in the General Assembly, seeking appointment twice and running three times. In 2014, Dana challenged Sen. Rich Madaleno and lost with 41.7% of the vote after spending in excess of $350,000 on her campaign.

Dana is one candidate who could easily bring to bear more money than Jeff. Like Jeff, she’s also smart, hardworking and extremely determined. While she has not won election, she has been on the ballot a number of times and built name recognition. She has gained valuable experience in running past campaigns.

On the other hand, though Dana has tried to build ties with left-wing progressives, she does not have a personal base of supporters in the district and has difficulty in recruiting or working with allies. She would also have a lot of fences to mend with Madaleno supporters. A decisive and opinionated person, she needs to articulate an authentic voice while at the same time remembering that voters want to be heard and not lectured—a skill that Jeff already possesses . In short, she’d have to figure out how to grow her support.

Of course, a candidate who is not currently on my radar could still emerge. The best bet for someone else to challenge Jeff is a candidate with very deep pockets who wants to run as a fresh, authentic face and argue that we need new ideas and new leadership in Annapolis. Even if it would likely remain an uphill battle to defeat Jeff, I could imagine such a candidate gaining traction and making him sweat to win the seat.

The bottom line is Jeff is well positioned to become District 18’s next senator. That doesn’t mean he won’t have to fight for it. However, if his luck continues, it may even occur with ease, as when Rich Madaleno won in 2006 without opposition.

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A Reply to Nancy Floreen on MCPS Funding

By Adam Pagnucco.

Thanks to Council Member Nancy Floreen for writing about MCPS funding in recent years in response to my blog post.  First, a note of appreciation.  While we may disagree about MCPS, we agree wholeheartedly on the issue of economic growth, which is the anchor for the county budget.  The political winds on growth shift back and forth in county politics over the decades, but Floreen has consistently pushed an economic development agenda.  She was for jobs before jobs were cool!  All the things the county has done right in economic development – and there have been a few of them – have Floreen’s fingerprints all over them.  It’s one reason why your author admires her and is sad to see her leave the County Council.

Let’s begin with areas of agreement.  First, Floreen is absolutely right about the terrible days of the Great Recession.  The county had not faced anything like it since the 1930s.  Everything had to go on the table in those days – spending cuts, layoffs, furloughs, broken collective bargaining agreements and an energy tax hike – because the alternative was default.  Floreen was Council President in 2010, the worst year of the recession.  She, the County Executive and her colleagues saved the county from fiscal disaster.  That achievement should not be forgotten.

Second, Floreen mentions the state’s teacher pension shift as a stress point on county finances.  Again, she’s absolutely right.  For many years, the state’s payment of teacher pension benefits was the one state program that disproportionately benefited Montgomery County.  That’s because our high cost of living as well as our prioritization of schools leads us to pay higher teacher salaries than the rest of the state, which results in higher pensions.  In 2010, nearly all of MoCo’s state legislators running for election promised not to shift pension costs to the counties.  But in 2012, Governor Martin O’Malley pushed a plan to do exactly that and most of our state legislators voted for it.  The result is that Montgomery County pays roughly $60 million a year for teacher pensions now, more than any jurisdiction in the state.  Compare that to the size of last year’s property tax hike, which was $140 million a year.  No matter what is said about the county, the state should not be let off the hook.

Now to the areas of disagreement.  It’s interesting that Floreen says our blog post is misleading but does not actually refute any of the data on which we rely.  She simply picks other data and disagrees with our characterizations.  We are sympathetic to her problem: it’s hard to refute data that happens to be true!  One thing she contests is our choice of FY10 as a base year for comparison.  We picked FY10 because it was the peak year of overall county spending before the Great Recession fully kicked in.  So comparing FY10 to FY16, the year before the tax hike, is valid because it’s a peak-to-peak comparison that includes both the cuts to departments in the early part of the period as well as the restoration that occurred afterwards.

She also disagrees repeatedly with our referring to MCPS as going through austerity.  Our basis for doing so was the county’s local dollar spending per pupil, which comes from county budget documents and was not contested by Floreen.  In nominal terms, here is the county’s local spending per pupil from FY06 through FY17.

The data shows that the county cut its local per pupil contribution to MCPS for three straight years and froze it for four straight years.  This period greatly exceeds the length of the Great Recession.  The local per pupil contribution went up after last year’s property tax increase.

Last year’s per pupil bump looks significant, but here is the same data adjusted by the Washington-Baltimore CPI and presented in real terms using 2017 dollars.  (We estimated 2017 inflation at 2.02%, the average rate of the preceding years in the chart.)  Clearly, even with the tax hike, the county’s local-dollar commitment to schools is not what it once was.  And the CPI underestimates major cost drivers for the schools, such as the costs of serving rising numbers of students who live in poverty and need language services.

Floreen then talks about the county departments that were cut during the recession.  She’s right: they were cut.  But after the recession ended, most of them were restored to levels exceeding what they were before the recession.  Meanwhile, county dollars for MCPS were cut by $33 million between FY10 and FY16.  Floreen doesn’t deny that, but she notes that local dollars aren’t the only source for MCPS’s budget.  The schools get plenty of state money too.  Floreen says this:

What really matters is the total MCPS budget, not the State share versus the local share. The higher State spending for MCPS in recent years reflects that the State’s funding formulas, at long last, are starting to recognize our students’ actual needs, as shown in our higher ESOL and FARMS populations. The State aid increases, which were long overdue, enabled us to provide continued strong support for MCPS during the Great Recession without further decimating every other function of government.  Why is that not a good thing?

Floreen is conceding a central point of our original post which is reinforced in the per pupil data above: the county depended on state aid to keep MCPS afloat while it restricted its own contributions to the school system.  Meanwhile, MCPS enrollment grew from 140,500 to 156,514 between FY10 and FY16, an 11% increase.  The Great Recession by itself can’t be cited as a justification for restricting county dollars for schools because the restrictions continued long after the trough of the recession had passed.  Indeed, fifteen other counties increased their local per pupil contributions after the recession ended, including nine controlled by Republicans.  The message here is, “The state was paying for our schools so we didn’t have to increase county per pupil spending on them.”  Is that “continued strong support for MCPS” as claimed above?  Is it satisfactory for parents and voters?  Let the readers decide.

Finally, Floreen repeats her longstanding point that last year’s 9% property tax hike was intended to support MCPS.  That’s true: MCPS did get a big share of that money.  But so did the rest of the government.  Last year, we laid out how the county could have cut the tax hike in half, still given MCPS all the money requested in the County Executive’s budget and done it without spending cuts to other agencies.  County Executive Ike Leggett, who originally proposed the tax hike, asked the council to cut the rate increase in half after the General Assembly passed a law easing the county’s liability from a U.S. Supreme Court decision on income taxes.  But the council chose to keep every penny of the original tax hike and spread it across every agency instead.  That’s not an Education First budget – it’s an Everything First budget.  The result of the tax hike was a tremendous boost for the 40-point triumph of term limits at the ballot box.  Even the council’s own spokesman at the time now says the tax hike was unnecessary and is vowing to stop another one if he is elected to Floreen’s open seat.

Look folks.  We get this is tough medicine.  We understand that elected officials don’t like to be criticized, especially around election time.  And we understand that Nancy Floreen, a Council Member we respect, would like to go out on top.  But it’s important to understand the past to prepare for the future.  The schools need small, steady increases in per pupil funding to deal with their challenges.  There can no longer be wild swings between extended periods of per pupil cuts and freezes followed by huge tax hikes intended to undo the effects of those cuts and freezes.  To fund MCPS fairly without raising taxes, the county will have to restrain the overall growth of the rest of the budget to pay for it.  There cannot be any more Everything First budgets.  With four Council Members leaving and the Executive race wide open, it will be up to the next generation of county officials to chart a better way forward.

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