Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland
Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

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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.

Police Promise Council “Chaos” If Demands Not Met

Pay up, or else:

“Now, not to comply with the law would be a very dangerous and short-sighted approach by Mr. Leggett because in the years when we have lost we have always honored the arbitrator’s award,” [Walter] Bader [chief negotiator and past president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 35], said.

The union could “run to the County Council and turn the process into chaos,” he said.

No special interest left behind:

Gino Renne, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization, said he also planned to lobby the County Council to reverse Leggett’s proposals.

“It all goes to council. We’ll fight it out there,” Renne said.

Read the full article at the Gazette »

Teachers’ Union Pres. Defends Lobbying

Teachers’ union president defends the union’s lobbying, but did he inadvertently betray his own cause?

When the economy crashed last year and a contract we had bargained in better economic times was no longer feasible, MCEA members voted overwhelmingly to forgo $89 million in pay raises for the current school year. We know that the recession has made it necessary for everyone to make sacrifices.

The coming years won’t be much rosier.

Read the full op-ed at the Washington Post »

Post: “Please, don’t make us cheat!”

The Post’s editorial board takes on special interests:

The schemes that allowed officers to score guns on the taxpayers’ dime are finished, and presumably, so is the county’s laxity when it comes to tuition assistance programs for employees. What seems alive and well, however, is the sense of entitlement among public employee unions in Montgomery County, which have been coddled by politicians for too long.

Read the full editorial at the Washington Post »

MoCo IG: “Waste and Abuse” in Gun Program

The County’s Investigator General released a report uncovering $600,000 in no-bid contracts for police “training”:

Montgomery County awarded more than $600,000 in no-bid payments to nine companies that had ties to county police officers and were part of a controversial tuition-assistance program, Montgomery’s inspector general said in a report released Monday….Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley concluded that the close ties among the companies, employees and students enrolled in the classes have ‘and will continue to expose county taxpayer dollars to waste and abuse until more comprehensive guidelines and monitoring are put in place.’

Read the full story and Council reactions at the Washington Post »

Money Doesn’t Buy Test Scores

The Maryland Public Policy Institute debunks the myth that increased school spending necessitates higher achievement:

The fact is that the level of education funding has little to do with how well students are taught…..One of the most comprehensive reviews of studies on education funding was done by Dr. Eric Hanushek of Stanford University. He found that only 27% of 163 studies found a statistically significant relationship between an increase in per-pupil funding and student achievement. Of those studies, two-thirds showed an insignificant correlation and the others showed a negative correlation. Another study of Dr. Hanuskek finds that input-based education policies, such as increased funding, don’t produce results unless you change incentives within schools.

Read the full article at the Maryland Public Policy Institute »

Gun Coupons

The county improperly subsidized the purchase of private firearms:

The weapons classes were set up by a firm with ties to a Montgomery police officer. Fellow officers enrolled in the classes, and their tuition was paid by the county’s tuition assistance program. A suit filed by the county Wednesday accused the firm and officer who helped run it of fraud. Officials allege that the classes were designed with a special enticement to get officers to enroll: County-subsidized guns they could take home for personal use. The tuition program is not supposed to cover books or other materials, including guns.

Read the full article at the Washington Post »

Gazette: “Tense union negotiations”

The Gazette documents county pay raises that beat inflation threefold. Nice work if you can get it.

According to council staff director Steve Farber, salaries for members of [Gino] Renne’s union [United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization] increased by 96 percent from 1999 to 2009. That percentage represents increases from cost of living adjustments and scheduled annual raises. During the same time period, the cost of living within Montgomery County increased 36.6 percent, Farber said.

In just the most recent three-year contract period, which ends this fiscal year, salaries have been increasing at 7 percent to 8 percent each year. Health benefits are also extremely generous, with the county paying 80 percent of insurance premiums for MCGEO members; employees of the school system have, on average, 90 percent of their premiums paid by their employer.

Read the full editorial at the Gazette »