Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hold The Line, Montgomery County!

I have spent quite a few column inches in this blog talking about Montgomery County, which I have called home, more because of inertia than anything else, for virtually my entire life.  The county government has a well-deserved reputation for taxing its residents and spending money like it's water, and its managers are now finding, in this miserable economy, that it's damn tough to turn off that tap. 

The county is now facing a 400 million dollar deficit for next year, and it's pretty much run out of options for finding that kind of cash.  Eighty percent of the county's budget goes to salaries for county employees, including cops, firefighters and teachers, and the county is going to have to ask all of those workers to forgo pay raises for a second year in a row. 

These kinds of pay freezes have become commonplace in other jurisdictions, as well as in the private sector, but it's almost unheard of in Montgomery, where employee unions have ruled the roost for too many decades.  As I've written before, this is the kind of power that can develop when there is no level of bipartisanship within the ranks of elected officials.  Montgomery County does not have a single Republican in power at the local or state level, and now we are paying the price for the myopia of our voters.  I'm not arguing that the GOP has better ideas, just that diversity and moderation is underserved here. 

The Washington Post has an op/ed piece today that makes an excellent argument to County Executive Isiah Leggett and School superintendent Jerry Weast to hold the line on pay hikes and cost-of-living increases, but it will be a mighty struggle for them to hold off the unions that have run roughshod over taxpayers for too many years. 

I say all of this despite the fact that my wife is a county schoolteacher.  We certainly could use the money that a pay raise or a COLA would bring in.  But we need fairness more than we need money.  As the Post points out, others are learning to make do with less.  Montgomery County workers need to join us.

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