Friday, November 7, 2008

Rockville Tea Party!

Just as the colonists of Boston sent a message to the king, voters in Montgomery County have sent a warning shot to the County Executive and Council... I gleefully give you this editorial from today's Washington Post:

The Montgomery Tax Revolt
Voters send a clear message to Rockville: Cut spending and curb union influence.

Friday, November 7, 2008; A18

THE JOKE HAS always been that Montgomery County residents never met a tax they didn't like. Voters, tired of being a punch line, sent a contrary message to county leaders on Tuesday: Stop the tax hikes and start spending less. Half of Montgomery voters supported a measure that would make it more difficult to raise the limit on property tax rates. The ill-advised measure, which could hinder the County Council's ability to raise revenue in a time of fiscal crisis, became an outlet for voters frustrated with spending in Rockville. It's unclear whether the measure will pass -- it's ahead by a few hundred votes with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots uncounted -- but, whatever the outcome, Montgomery lawmakers would be wise to take voters' concerns seriously.

The possible success of the measure, peddled by anti-spending ideologue Robin Ficker, isn't a total validation of Mr. Ficker's three-decade crusade against taxes. But it is a repudiation of the county government's warped fiscal priorities. The council, and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), buckled to union pressure last year and approved audacious pay increases that far exceeded inflation and defied common sense. The raises, which total 8 percent this year for many county employees, contributed to a severe budget deficit that forced the council to approve a 13 percent increase in property tax rates earlier this year. Taxpayers, incensed by the increase, wondered why they had to bear the brunt of the budget crunch. At a time when the county is shedding jobs and many feel lucky to have a steady paycheck, shouldn't county workers also contribute to a solution?

No doubt many voters also may have had in mind the recently reported excesses of the county's disability retirement program. More than 60 percent of Montgomery police officers who retired in the past four years are collecting service-related disability payments. Some officers have legitimate complaints; others are gaming the system and taking taxpayers for a costly ride. Reforming the disability program would have tangible fiscal benefits -- $35 million was awarded for service-related disability benefits in fiscal 2008. Reform would also send a message to voters that county leaders are serious about rebuffing excessive union influence.

Mr. Leggett could reinforce that message if he takes a firm position in negotiations about possible pay concessions. Usually the soul of conciliation, Mr. Leggett must make the case that it's better for union leaders to compromise on wage hikes than risk the council's deciding not to fully fund the increases. The council must buttress Mr. Leggett by making clear that such threats aren't idle. The alternative will be serious budget cuts that reduce services and cut jobs. That's no laughing matter.

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