Testimony before the Montgomery County Council
On the Proposed FY 2013 Budget
April 11, 2012
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the FY 2013 budget proposed by the County Executive. I am Joan Fidler, President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League. Like Mark Anthony I come here not to bury the budget but, in some areas, to praise it.
In his budget, the County Executive has exercised restraint in many of his spending proposals for which he is to be commended. Mr. Leggett has proposed a fiscally prudent pay increase in the form of a one-time bonus for county government employees. And last year, he increased the employee share of healthcare premiums. But more needs to be done. The gold-plated health benefits of county employees and the platinum-plated benefits of our school employees continue to be the envy even of federal workers, who are often cited as the most pampered public employees in the nation. Just a side-by-side analysis will show you glaring disparities. As health care costs continue to increase we cannot continue our generosity in this area. Yes, we know that "cost shifting" is anathema to our unions. But what is our choice? Magnanimity to our county and school workers? Or provision of essential services to county residents who subsist at 100% of the Federal Poverty Standard?
On the subject of taxes: we are greatly disheartened that the proposed budget extends the energy tax. This tax was considered an "emergency" and was sold to us as "temporary". Extension of the tax will be a broken promise to taxpayers. And what does this do to our reputation as a business-friendly county? It definitely does not enhance the view. As for the increase in property taxes, this is tax creep personified. Property taxes creep up while the value of our properties stagnate. Taxes increases should be our last resort. The State is bludgeoning us already.
And now to the sword of Damocles – the budget of the public schools, which accounts for 50 percent of the county budget. The fatally flawed maintenance of effort law has now shown itself for what it truly is – a maintenance of emolument law. It will continue to increase the salaries and benefits of the adults in the system. The school system seems to think that it has a cost-plus contract with taxpayers, the kind that bakes in past inefficiencies and shirks off any notion of compensation containment. With 90 percent of the schools budget devoted to employee compensation, and with the State's iron curtain of protection drawn around it, the services offered to the rest of the residents of the county will suffer. You have just a finite number of dollars. But a solution lies before you. Why not move all school-related services to the school system? They cannot have it both ways. They have the funds; they can pay for the services.
Budgets are a matter of choices. The State has made a choice for the school system; you can make a choice for the rest of us.