Many anticipated that the new Montgomery County Council, filled with fresh new faces who ran on a progressive platform, would be markedly more left wing.
The Council has now disabused us of this notion. While willing to undertake vocal left-wing symbolic gestures, even mildly progressive stances have sent the Council running away.
Consider the reaction to County Executive Marc Elrich’s budget. The county executive proposed a very mild tax increase. A homeowner with a $500,000 home would have seen taxes rise by $46. People with $1 million homes would see a rise of $192. The purpose was to increase spending on affordable housing and education and Montgomeryites would have been paying this increased rate for years but for a mistake by county estimators.
Hardly a big enough increase to give one the vapors. Based on the increasingly hardline progressive rhetoric, one might have thought that Elrich would have been slammed by progressives for not increasing taxes or spending on progressive goals enough.
Elrich’s decision to maintain reserves at a high rate could have been cast as caving to big banks. He planned to increase spending for the county government by a whopping 0.8%. So much for out of control spending. It would have been easier to cast this budget as Tory austerity.
Nevertheless, the Council immediately repudiated these rather tepid measures and allied themselves with those criticizing the country executive for breaking his promise not to raise taxes, even by a small amount. All members of the Council, except Tom Hucker, signed on to a statement repudiating the property tax increase. And even Hucker demurred.
In News of the Weird, Councilmember Will Jawando then put out a statement the following day demanding more progressive taxation after repudiating this far milder tax increase.
The Council put out the statement so fast that I assume no time was left for racial equity and social justice analysis as demanded by legislation supported by the same exact Council. No one can seriously think such an analysis would conclude this mild tax increase didn’t advance either principle viewed through a progressive lens.
This isn’t the first time that Council symbolic politics ran aground on the rocks of reality.
The Council may lay this decision on the county coping with the very early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic but why the rush? It quickly became abundantly clear that the budget would need to be radically revamped in light of our new serious economic and health challenges. Surely, all councilmembers knew that this was already happening.
But instead of taking a deep breath, the Council rushed to attack the executive for plans that one might have thought they would support based on all the loud progressive claims made during the 2018 elections. Such a statement could have easily been issued by former Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who abandoned the Democrats to run an centrist independent against Elrich in 2018.
After this initial statement, the Council then moved on to pass a resolution on the county budget. Resolutions are legislative “sound and fury signifying nothing” with apologies to Faulkner. At best they are aspirational. In the midst of the general call for fiscal restraint, they did take the time to ask specifically for no increases above those mandated by the state in education. Again, hardly smacking of the progressive wish list.
How you view the Council’s actions will largely depend on your politics. Either way, in their rush to denounce his budget’s mild progressive moves, let’s be clear that the Council has now entirely ceded the progressive mantle to Marc Elrich.