Category Archives: Nancy Floreen

MCGEO Gets Ready to Rumble

By Adam Pagnucco.

On Monday night, July 11, some MoCo residents received the following robocall.

I’m Tara Huber. I live in Montgomery County and I’m a county worker in child protective services. My job is to protect the vulnerable children in the county and can be very stressful. My job is made even more stressful by the fact that the County under the leadership of Council President Nancy Floreen has failed time and again to give me and my co-workers the right tools to effectively do our jobs. Floreen has mismanaged the county budget to such an extreme that we don’t have enough staff or tools to manage the high case loads. Protect your Montgomery. Call President Floreen at 240-777-7959 and tell her you expect better management of our tax dollars. Paid for by UFCW Local 1994, 600 South Frederick Avenue Gaithersburg Maryland 20877.

This is a new shot fired by MCGEO, the county employee union, in its on-again, off-again conflict with the County Council.  But it’s a risky one that could backfire.

First, some background.  MCGEO has a number of problems with the council, including:

  1. The council’s trimming of employee benefits during the Great Recession.
  1. The council’s vote to end effects bargaining for the police union, which was later upheld by voters.
  1. The council’s vote to cut MCGEO’s raise in half as part of its recently passed budget.
  1. The introduction of legislation by Council President Nancy Floreen that would change collective bargaining procedures in ways that the union claims would weaken its ability to negotiate.

These events and more have caused MCGEO President Gino Renne to tell the Post that his union might support Robin Ficker’s term limits amendment.  And on the night before the hearing on Floreen’s collective bargaining bill, the above robocall went out.  None of this is a coincidence.  Indeed, the union is gearing up for battle.  And no one, whether friend or foe of MCGEO and its fearsome President, has ever claimed that the union backs down when it is under threat.

The problem is that the robocall has little merit and such tactics may provoke the council to do even more against the union’s interest.

Montgomery County has a gigantic Health and Human Services (HHS) budget.  In FY16, HHS had an approved budget of $289 million, with 1,359 full-time positions and 327 part-time positions.  Children, Youth and Family Services, for which the robocall speaker (a MCGEO Vice-President) works, had an FY16 approved budget of $79 million with 525 full-time equivalent positions.

Using FY09 data, your author found that Montgomery County had the biggest HHS budget (along with housing) of any local jurisdiction in Maryland.  On a per capita basis, MoCo spent more than double the state average and lagged only the City of Baltimore.  MoCo spent more than 8 times on HHS and housing than did Prince George’s County.  From FY10 (the peak year prior to the recession) through FY16, MoCo’s HHS budget grew by 13%.  And as for the County Council specifically, it adds millions of dollars on top of the Executive’s recommended budget for HHS every year.  Below is a list of the HHS items added by the council to the Executive’s budget this year, financed with a nine percent increase in property taxes.

HHS Rec List FY17

It’s hard to argue that the council pinches pennies on HHS.  MCGEO has pooh-poohed the tax hike on its website.  What would the union like to see?  Does the council need to raise property taxes by 20% to get its approval?

There is more.  MCGEO is considering supporting term limits for county elected officials.  Fair enough.  The union has some legitimate grievances and any union would fight against a breaking of its collective bargaining agreement.  But let’s remember that the collective bargaining bill detested by MCGEO only had two sponsors at introduction, Nancy Floreen and Craig Rice.  That doesn’t speak well of the bill’s chances under normal circumstances.  But if MCGEO amps up its tactics and really does come out for term limits, could it actually help to recruit votes for Floreen’s bill?  After all, what do term-limited Council Members have to lose?  And let’s not forget that this council will decide on funding two more MCGEO annual compensation packages before the next council is seated.

In May 2011, when the County Council met to pass a budget that included cuts to employee benefits, a group of nine clowns appeared in the audience.  One of them wore a name tag with the first name of the Council President.  The police union refused to admit responsibility but was widely blamed.  Less than two months later, the council voted unanimously to repeal the police union’s right to bargain the effects of management decisions.

What goes around comes around.  Is MCGEO next?

MoCo’s Giant Tax Hike, Part Five

By Adam Pagnucco.

The untold story about the Giant Tax Hike is that it could have been cut substantially while still maintaining every dime of funding for MCPS in the Executive’s recommended budget.  How could that have been done?

The Executive called for an increase in property taxes of $140 million over the charter limit.  Three sources of savings were available to offset it.  First, Senator Rich Madaleno’s state legislation enabling the county to extend the time necessary to pay tax refunds mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wynne decision freed up $33.7 million.  Second, the County Council had obtained $4.1 million by not funding some elements of the employees’ collective bargaining agreements.  Third, county agencies other than MCPS were due to receive a combined $36.3 million in extra tax-supported funds in the Executive’s recommended budget.  Using some or all of that money for tax relief would have reduced the tax hike even more.  If all of that money were redirected, the tax hike could have been cut in half with MCPS still getting the entire funding increase in the Executive’s budget.

Instead, the council kept the entire 8.7% property tax hike and distributed $25 million of it throughout the entire county government, as well as its affiliated agencies and partner organizations.  While MCPS may have undergone seven straight years of austerity, most of the other agencies and departments had already received double-digit increases over their pre-recession peak amounts.  This new money was on top of those increases.

Council President Nancy Floreen was very honest about this, writing:

While this is an “education first” budget, it isn’t an “education only” budget. As much as many people care about our outstanding school system, we know that others have different priorities. This budget is very much about those people as well.

This budget provides a much-needed boost to police and fire and rescue services as we will be adding more police officers and firefighters and giving them the equipment they need to continue to make this one the safest counties in America. This budget is about libraries, recreation, parks, the safety net, Montgomery College, and transportation programs that help get people around this county better.

This budget means that no matter where you live in the county, if you call an ambulance, you can count on a life-saving response time. Our police force will now be equipped with body cameras. Potholes will be filled, snow will be plowed, grass in parks and on playing fields will be mowed and trees will get planted in the right-of-way. While our unemployment rate has fallen steadily over the past couple of years, our newly privatized program for economic development promises an even better job market in the future. We are going to help new businesses in their early stages and hope they will remain here once they become successful. We are going to aggressively seek to get established businesses to relocate here and we are going to fight to keep the great businesses of all sizes that already call Montgomery County home. Our avid readers and researchers will appreciate the interim Wheaton Library and extended hours at several branches. And students will have better access to after-school enrichment programs.

As Council President Floreen demonstrates above, this is not so much an Education First budget as it is an Everything First budget, with nearly every department and agency getting a piece of new tax revenues.

Let’s compare what happened this year to what occurred in 2010.  Back then, the county was suffering from the full effects of the Great Recession.  Its reserves were dwindling to zero, revenues were in freefall and its AAA bond rating was on the verge of being downgraded.  The County Council responded by passing a budget with furloughs, layoffs, no raises for employees, a cut in the county’s earned income tax credit, an absolute reduction in spending and a $110 million increase in the energy tax.  Given the dire economic emergency, all options were bad ones, but the council really had no choice.  The cuts and tax hike were forced upon them.

This year, there is a stagnant economy (which we will discuss in Part Six) but no Great Recession.  Reserves are substantial and have been on track to meet the county’s goal of ten percent of revenues.  There is no threat to the bond rating.  And yet, the council chose to pass a $140 million property tax increase – larger than the energy tax hike during the recession – when it could easily have reduced the tax increase, funded MCPS’s needs and not cut any other departments.  But it did not.

Like all big choices, this one will have consequences.  We will explore them in Part Six.

Air In, Vaping Out in MoCo

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council looks set to pass Council Vice President Nancy Floreen’s bill to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The bill would also prohibit their use where smoking is already not allowed and mandate child-resistant packaging.

Here is Councilmember Floreen’s argument for the bill:

It is hard to keep up with the mounting evidence that electronic cigarettes pose more risks than their marketers would like us to believe, especially for children and teens.

Although electronic cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, they do contain nicotine and other dangerous chemicals. That’s why I introduced a bill in the Montgomery County Council to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces where traditional cigarette smoking is banned, including in public buildings and restaurants. The bill also would prohibit use of electronic cigarettes by minors and would require child-resistant packaging for them.

The use of electronic cigarettes, commonly called “vaping,” has grown dramatically since the product’s introduction in 2007. The practice has become so commonplace that the Oxford Dictionary selected the word “vape” as its 2014 “Word of the Year.”

Perhaps swayed by the belief that electronic cigarettes are safe, or emboldened by the fact that e-cigs have little odor that parents could detect, teens who have never tried traditional cigarettes are using e-cigs. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that e-cig use has tripled among teens in just two years. These young people are unwittingly putting themselves at risk for nicotine addiction and nicotine poisoning, as well as potentially graduating to harmful tobacco products.

What exactly is in an electronic cigarette? It is hard to say. In addition to the most common ingredients — propylene glycol, nicotine and flavorings — studies have revealed a lot of unsavory things, like carcinogens, heavy metals and even silicon fibers in some e-cigs. But with 90 percent of electronic cigarettes being manufactured in China, where production lacks even the most basic of regulations, they could contain just about anything.

Many states, including Maryland, prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Municipalities including New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, also have enacted restrictions on their use.

While the Food and Drug Administration is currently considering regulations to address electronic cigarettes, it is not clear when those regulations would be finalized or take effect. In the meantime, I’m not willing to gamble with the health of our current generation of young people. We must put some protections in place, and we must do it now.

Councilmember Floreen makes a good case. It seems very odd that someone can buy vaping materials at a mall kiosk but that cigarettes must be sold behind the counter. If adults want to use these materials, that’s their business. But we shouldn’t facilitate the addiction and the poisoning of people who are not yet legal adults.

Leventhal Slams CASA

casa logo

The Washington Post reports that dealing with negative impacts of the Purple Line on low-income people is CASA’s biggest priority and the lack of concern with these issues cost incumbent Councilmembers George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen the organization’s support:

CASA ‘s biggest priority in Montgomery at the moment is the Purple Line’s potential threat to affordable housing and minority-owned small businesses in communities such as Long Branch. In CASA’s assessment, they weren’t there with them. . . .

CASA and other groups are worried that gentrification, triggered by escalating real estate values along the route, will price Latinos out of the community.

“George’s perception is that any discussion of equity around the Purple Line undermines its chances of going forward,” Propeack said.

George responded less than tactfully:

“My impression is that they’re trying to insult me,” Leventhal said. He added: “I do think CASA sometimes loses sight of the fact that the primary beneficiaries of the Purple Line will be Latinos. It will be of enormous benefit to workers who will have greater access to jobs. I guess they think transit is bad for communities.”

This quote exhibits George’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. He is fervent in his causes and makes cogent arguments for them. At the same time, he often acts in ways that express disdain for people who disagree with him and build barriers rather than friends. This case is especially telling because of his past very close relationship with CASA and his genuine, strong support for Latinos.

Nancy also made a statement to the reporter:

Floreen said she couldn’t say what happened.

“I have no idea. These are folks with their own agenda. They’re all advocates for something or other.”

Whether you agree with her or not, Nancy is opinionated, informed, and smart as a whip. But when I read this, it sounded like the least sensible quote ever from Nancy Floreen. Of course, they have an agenda. They’re an interest group.

However, interviews are long and quotes are short, so I gave Nancy a call. Her assessment has more sang-froid than George’s:

It’s their assessment of the politics of the situation. I’ve always supported them and their interests in the past and will continue to do so in the future whether or not they endorse me.

Essentially, they’re an interest group with their own goals they will do what they will do. A smart response as it leaves doors open, doesn’t alienate, or give the story more traction.