Testimony of MCTL President Joan Fidler to the Council

On April 5, MCTL president Joan Fidler testified to the County Council on the proposed FY 2011 operating budget for Montgomery County.

Thank you for this opportunity to present our recommendations on the County Executive’s proposed budget for FY 2011. And we know that what Mr. Leggett proposes, the Council can choose to dispose.

I am Joan Fidler, President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League. We have been in existence since 1975 and have testified before this Council for over a decade. You have often heard us but have rarely listened. In these difficult economic times we need to work together. Let us hope that you will both hear us and listen.

First, we largely support the budget proposed by Mr. Leggett. He has shown great courage. We ask the same of you. We are quite aware that this is an election year and that courage may be in short supply. But we ask you to remember that we taxpayers have generously funded many of your unsupportable and unsustainable actions of the past. We ask you to remember that you represent not only heavily-funded large interest groups but all of the citizens and taxpayers of the county. If you must pander, we ask that you pander to the taxpayers of the county.

Here’s where you can begin. The salaries and more particularly the benefits of the employees of the county government and the school system account for 80% of the operating budgets funded by taxpayers. Let us also state that we do not deny the caliber and dedication of these employees. They are, by all accounts, a well-qualified and dedicated staff. But do we have to mortgage our future and that of our children by providing them with salaries that are the envy of their counterparts in the metropolitan area? Do we have to fund benefits that exceed the gold-plated benefits of the federal government? Yes, we know this is an election year. But can we ask that you not vote for salary and benefit giveaways unless you have calculated that taxpayers can afford them in the short-term and sustain them in the long-term?

Which brings us to the phantom COLA. Last May, 7 of the 8 members of this Council voted for a deal giving county employees a paper or “phantom” COLA which they did not see in their paychecks but are now used as a base for their pensions – in perpetuity, no less. This deal will cost us taxpayers over $8 million this year and cost our children over $200 million over the next several decades. We ask that you have the courage to eliminate the phantom COLA. Taxpayers do not pay phantom taxes, but you passed a phantom COLA for which we pay real taxes.

Next, we ask that to promote equality, school system employees have the same benefits as County employees. County employees pay 23% of their health care premiums; school system employees pay 5%. Savings from this alone would gain taxpayers $30 million. County employees will not get step increases this year; neither should school system employees. The savings? An additional $26 million. Would the combined savings of $56 million require too much courage to enact?

And finally, this is an election year. Do you have the courage to release to us taxpayers the responses to questions sent to you by interest groups?

We have no litmus test but 3 questions:

  1. If elected, will you vote to support all the citizens and taxpayers of the county, not just powerful interest groups?
  2. Will you remember the unempowered vulnerable people of the county?
  3. Will you recognize declining revenues and enact honest, realistic budgets for the county?

Thank you.