The Montgomery County Council talks a good game when it comes to progressive politics, but their policy choices are straight out of the corporate conservative Republican playbook.
Consider their most recent action to lower impact fees that pay for public services, like schools, on development.
Heeding calls by Empower Montgomery (which advertised being founded by David Blair until he ran for county executive), the Council is eliminating moratoria on development required by law due to the county’s failure to provide public services needed for existing residents in these areas. The Council didn’t solve the problem providing the public services needed to meet legal requirements but by simply eliminating the moratoria.
In the past, councilmembers have argued against moratoria on the grounds that the impact fees from new development are vital to providing these services. No one has trumpeted this line more strongly than the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee Chair Hans Riemer.
In an October email blast, Riemer justified the Council’s last corporate welfare giveaway (eliminating real estate developments on WMATA property from property taxes for 15 years) by pointing to the impact fees they will generate:
These projects generate more construction jobs and more one-time revenue for the County, such as impact tax revenue that can be used to add school and transportation capacity.
Now, the Council has voted substantial cuts to the impact fees that they touted as the reason to eliminate the moratoria and pass the property tax giveaway for developers. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but this nevertheless remains an impressive feat of quick dumping down the memory hole.
The Council’s decision sounds like straight supply-side economics. It contends that reducing impact fees will result in more development. If they believe that this will result in an impact tax gusher, it’s the exact same fantasy that fueled massive deficits under Reagan, Bush and Trump, when tax cuts for the wealthy did not swell the nation’s coffers. Otherwise, they are bringing in more people who will require services but leaving the county even less equipped to pay for needed infrastructure.
The Council has conveniently left the decision as to what cuts should be made due to revenue reduction to County Executive Marc Elrich. They’ll lay the blame for the fall in revenue and cuts at his door even though their policies will cause the problem.
Elrich vetoed the bill despite unanimous Council support. As they vote to override it and further starve public infrastructure, the Council will cast Elrich’s fiscally responsible decision simultaneously as far-left crazy and anti-affordable housing.
During his ten years on the Council, Hans Riemer has cast himself as the leader of efforts to provide affordable housing. He vilifies Marc Elrich’s policies as the source of the problem. Yet it’s Riemer and his allies, like
two-three-term Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, who pushed this supply-side legislation, who have long been running the policy show in this area.
That hasn’t stopped them from regularly declaring current policy a failure to justify their latest idea. Obliviously, the Council regularly passes new legislation that Anderson, Riemer and friends claim will address the lack of affordable housing while simultaneously lamenting the continuing decline of affordable housing.
But don’t let the rest of the Council off the hook either. It voted to raise your property taxes while cutting those on favored developers (Councilmembers Hucker and Jawando opposed the latter). And all voted to reduce impact fees even though they all ran on improving public services.
Supported by monied interests, this show has been running for a long time. The Council gift wraps another tranche of money to wealthy interests that lobby for it in the gauzy rhetoric of affordable housing and social justice. The policy failure is then used to justify the next giveaway. Recycle and repeat.