MCTL Vice-President Gordie Brenne testified April 6, 2016, before the County Council in opposition to the proposed FY2017 budget:
Testimony on Proposed FY 2017 Budget for Montgomery County
April 6, 2016
In the years leading up to the 2008 economic collapse, bankers, Wall Street, and mortgage originators got too greedy and were subsequently found guilty of fraud after the banks were bailed out. Where were the regulators when this was happening? Today, our county government is playing fast and easy with the people’s money, and the Executive has asked for a 9% property tax increase to bailout excessive payroll increases. You, the Council are the regulators and we’re looking to you to reverse compensation contract mistakes made by MCPS and Executive management which imperil our kid’s education and bloat our payrolls.
MCPS is a snake eating its tail with solutions that fail our kids. Payroll costs have gone up 37% over the last ten years (OLO Report, 2/23/16), in spite of the recession. This is largely because annual step increases that will cost $55M next year, drive teachers average salaries over 12% above their peers in Fairfax and Howard counties (WABE FY2016 Guide), and force planned hiring cuts to pay for them. When we spend more on existing teachers and overhead, there’s less money to hire new teachers. It’s that simple.
Incredibly, there’s another step increase in this budget request, accounting for over half the increase above Maintenance of Effort (MoE), and overhead takes another 45 cents of every dollar (MCTL Study). The problem with one-size-fits-all solutions is that more expensive teachers in west county mean fewer new teachers in east county, larger class sizes, more reliance on para-educators to tackle the achievement gap and a widening gap. Ironically, teachers on the front line for closing the gap are paid on average 6% less than teachers in our wealthier west county schools (OLO Report, 9/22/15) .
Board members will tell you that in hindsight, last year’s step increase contributed to growing student teacher ratios, yet they seem powerless to do anything about it (OLO Report 2/23/16, pg 14). But you’re not powerless. Ask yourself if your arguments over the last 8 years against spending above the MoE level are still valid; and, if not why not? Our parents aren’t stupid. Explain the value proposition to east county parents who make less than teachers and have only 10% of their kids graduate college-ready (4/14 OLO report). Say no to more across the board pay raises. If you can’t do that, at least tie any spending increases to a requirement that MCPS sponsor an independent review of its gap-closing plans and costs.
General county government doesn’t look any better. Over three years (FY14-16), public safety employees have seen a 30% boost in pay, and other county employees have received 20% increases (Farber, 11/13/15 memo to Council). (After the third round of pay raises last year the Executive was forced to implement unprecedented spending cuts to the FY’16 budget just approved. Unfortunately, the cuts were to non-recurring expense items, postponing cuts needed to balance the FY’17 budget. He then promised to cut spending by 2% in the FY’17 budget request, but failed to deliver, even though the Budget Director and Chief Administrative Officer reiterated this approach in the 12/8/15 Council meeting).
Where are the productivity increases to justify labor costs growing faster than inflation? Our county’s health, transportation, and public safety haven’t seen dramatic improvements to justify big pay raises, while our safety net struggles to keep up with immigrant population growth, and our tax base hasn’t grown significantly.)
Lastly, budget request revenue projections could again prove to be too high (projections assume increases in the rate of personal income growth, 4.5% vs. 3.5% last year, that drives income tax revenues, and property tax revenues are projected to increase 10%- table pg. 3-8). Recently projected budget shortfalls (December 2015, Dept of Finance, $179M) were largely due to overly rosy revenue projections last June, not the Wynne Case (those shortfalls were already in the June 2015 projection). This could happen again. Scale back overly generous salary increases that keep bloating our enormous budget base and risk new budget deficits. Be regulators, not enablers.