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:
- The council’s trimming of employee benefits during the Great Recession.
- The council’s vote to end effects bargaining for the police union, which was later upheld by voters.
- The council’s vote to cut MCGEO’s raise in half as part of its recently passed budget.
- 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.
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?