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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Letter in Montgomery Gazette from MCTL President

The following letter from MCTL President Joan Fidler appeared in the May 26, 2010, edition of the Montgomery Gazette:

With the budget for fiscal 2011, the day of reckoning has finally arrived for the County Council. Unfortunately, it is the taxpayers of the county who will pay the price for the profligate budgets of years past. It would be fair to acknowledge that in facing the current crisis — one largely of its own making — the council has exhibited some degree of courage. It has held the line on property taxes. It has not bowed to the unions and has eliminated pay raises for county staff. It has attempted to extend the reach of furloughs to all tax-supported agencies, the superintendent’s grandstanding notwithstanding. Most notably, it has repealed the ill-conceived “ghost” COLA.

However, the decisions to institute an ambulance fee and to raise taxes on energy and cell phone usage punish the taxpayer for the sins of the council. Despite predictable revenue shortfalls and its deliberate budget decisions of the past four years, the council has smoothly shifted the burden unfairly to the taxpayer. Residents and businesses that choose to remain in the county will pay higher taxes while simultaneously experiencing reduced incomes and continued unemployment.

Furthermore, the council has caved to the school system. It has trimmed only gingerly from an agency that constitutes 57 percent of the budget while slashing libraries, transportation and health and human services. It has not mustered the courage to modify the gold-plated health benefits teachers enjoy but that most residents could only dream of: How many county residents pay only 5 percent to 10 percent in health care premiums and a $5 co-pay for a doctor visit?

Can we be assured that as we move through fiscal 2011, we will not be surprised with newly-discovered budget shortfalls? Will the council feign ignorance and punish county taxpayers again? And then there is 2012, with predicted revenue shortfalls, will taxes rise even higher? Just asking.

Joan Fidler, Bethesda

The writer is president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League.

Phantom COLA Repealed

On April 27, 2010, Joan Fidler, the MCTL President testified to the County Council to support the repeal of the phantom COLA (Expedited Bill 16-10, Personnel – Retirement – Imputed Compensation Limit)

Madam President and members of the Council, thank you for the opportunity to testify against the continuation of the phantom or “ghost” COLA that was passed by the Council last year.

I am Joan Fidler, President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League and I am here today on behalf of the taxpayers of the County and in support of Expedited Bill 16-10. As a well-known author once wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. These are not the best of times for Montgomery County. We are facing a budget shortfall of close to $1 billion with painful decisions ahead of you that will have, in many cases, a devastating impact on the services offered to the residents of the County. You have no choice but to repeal the ghost COLA you so generously offered County employees last year. Though the COLA has been characterized as a phantom, in reality, it has already cost us taxpayers $7 million this year. If continued, this phantom will loom over us in the amount of $200 million over the next 2 decades. We cannot afford it.

Which brings us to the irony of the situation. The cost of living actually dropped last year, yet the Council voted for a ghost COLA. More ironic, you denied County employees a one-year COLA yet gave them a lifetime ghost COLA.

As I have testified before, the Taxpayers League recognizes the value of our County employees – they are dedicated and hard-working. We are proud of the services they provide us. And yes, I expect they will say a deal is a deal.

But the fact is that revenues continue to drop — and the predicted budget gap increases. In September 2009, the budget gap was $370 million. By December, it grew to $608 million. On March 15, it was $779 million. On April 22, the County Executive reported the gap had grown to nearly $1 billion, or more than 25% of the tax-supported budget. To add to the gloom and doom, Montgomery County now has 30,000 unemployed workers. The stimulus funds which have served as a band aid will soon end. Our draining of the Rainy Day Fund has not gone unnoticed by Moody’s. Need I say more?

Members of the County Council, the journey of eliminating a deficit of $1 billion begins with $7 million? Won’t you take the first obvious step and vote for Bill 16-10?

Thank you.

The Council passed the bill to repeal the phantom COLA.

Testimony for FY 2011 Fiscal Budget by Robert Monsheimer

Following is the testimony given by Robert Monsheimer, Vice-President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League before the Montgomery County Council on April 7, 2010:

Testimony for FY 2011 Fiscal Budget

I would like to thank the President Floreen and the Council for allowing me to speak tonight on behalf of the FY 2011 proposed budget for Montgomery County Public Schools. While I am speaking as an individual I am currently the Vice President of Montgomery County Taxpayers League and have coordinated my testimony with our leadership. I have been a part of the budget process review for the last 15 years. When I heard the proposed MCPS budget I was very worried about what programs needed to be cut and numerous other losses. Especially with the letters of staff reductions already remitted by the Superintendent.

After reviewing the proposed budget and comparing it with the BOE recommended budget, I am fully in favor of the Executive recommended budget and here is why:

The Budget that the County Executive proposes is 137.5 million lower than the request from MCPS BOE. But let’s talk about what this really means.

A: The BOE added an additional reserve of 37.2 million to cover fines and potentially other shortfalls. These areas do not need to be funded and will not impact student services.

B: The County Executive has asked that we defer the reserve for retiree health benefits for another year. While I think funding is prudent, this reduction of 30.9 million will not change services or classroom size.

C: The County Executive states that no employees will receive a Step Increase this year in his proposed budget, if MCPS is to follow with this logic, then an additional 25.9 million dollars will be eliminated without changing classroom size or the number of teachers.

Thus we now have reduced the 137.5 million to just 43.5 million dollars.

D: The Fiscal FY 2011 budget by the BOE asked for the hiring of over 225 FTE’s, of these positions are not created next year, the savings will be another 14.9 million dollars.

Thus now we see a shortfall of just 28.6 million.

E: Now we have to get down to the way we have managed our business. MCPS employees enjoy a tremendous health benefit where the taxpayers pay between 90 and 95% of the costs. If the School system simply matched the other county employees’ percentage of around 23%, then approximately 30 million could be funded for direct programs.

Thus now we have a surplus of approximately 1.4 million dollars.

F: In the proposed FY 2011 budget, MCPS has plans to initiate a new pre-school pre-K special education program that primarily serves the same population as a private/public partnership has met the needs of Montgomery County for over 30 years. This is not the year to initiate this program and could result in savings of up to 1 million if the old program was left in place.

Thus now the surplus is 2.4 million dollars we can restore nearly 20% of the teaching positions requested to account for growth

So as an individual I am for the education of our children, as a parent advocate I look at the possibility of holding class sizes, full employment for current staff, and possibly a small increase in direct teaching available.

So my question is to you, why did the superintendent not do the math that I just did? Why propose laying off 225 teaching positions rather than make changes to health benefits? .

Other area that should and could be looked at before cutting valuable front-line teaching positions is:

A; Outsource many of the IT functions to a private company

B; Eliminate free life insurance for employees spouse and children, saving nearly $100,000, per year. This change adds 1.5 teaching positions back to the growth model.

C: Review why MCPS requires a $2.86 million increase in workers compensation. Measures should be available to keep this in check and save at least $1.5 million that could be used to fund direct education requirements.

D: Supplies and materials are slated to increase by 3.721 million dollars, of which 2 million was for textbook purchases above current year funding.

So not only did we produce an ability to fund everything requested but we believe as much as 6 million can be really available to restore direct education resources.

My contact information for further information and clarifications is, or cell 240 475 6039

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 »