Showdown at the Budget Corral
(Editorial warning – The following column includes satirical reference to shooting, bullets and other non-politically correct inferences. If you suffer from a diminished sense of humor, you're advised to skip the column below.
It was a classic clash of special interests and unpopular choices. The Tuesday, February 1, Board of County Commissioners meeting to discuss the Fire and Rescue division budget and fire tax turned into a shootout. The rhetorical bullets were flying in the first floor hearing room at Winchester Hall.
Marshall Blaine Young came strapped with his cost-cutting six-shooter and the will to use it! He must have known that the bad guys were lying in wait, planning an ambush over cuts to treasured programs.
It's happening all over the nation, in New Jersey, California, and New York. Popular programs, from education to fire services, are facing funding reductions.
Public hearings are being packed by labor unions, parents, and volunteer and career personnel to fight to keep what they have – and in some cases – to get more).
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has established a populist image as a reformer by charging headlong into budget deliberations with entrenched special interests. He seems to understand that the mandate of the majority sides with him.
Traditional liberal California Gov. Jerry Brown followed suit, although his cuts to special interest programs are somewhat offset by huge new tax increases. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo must have seen what was happening on the other side of the Hudson, as he's now proposing drastic cuts that will rile the public sector unions.
Maryland, thanks largely to a much more progressive voting majority, seems immune from the worst of these public sector spending reductions. Gov. Martin O'Malley is rolling out another budget heavy on transfers of dedicated funds into the operating budget.
In a lovely bit of political irony, the recent O'Malley campaign ran a commercial attacking former GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich for calling spending increases fees, not taxes. Now, the O'Malley budget is full of all types of new fees in a variety of different agencies.
On the eve of his State of the State speech, Governor O'Malley addressed his willingness to consider broad-based revenue increases. Hint: Broad-based revenues fall into three categories; sales tax, property tax, and income tax.
Economists suggest major revenue increases will further exacerbate the fragile financial picture, and taxpayers are revolting over increased taxes as a solution to past government spending problems. Consequently, cuts seem to be the best choice, or at least the path of least political resistance.
In Frederick County the choices of potential reductions are few, and what choices there are all seem bad. Cuts to public education generate a response from parents and teachers. Cuts to public safety bring out the career employees and the volunteers. Cuts to parks and recreation bring out the Sunday-in-the Park crowd.
Wayne Powell is a dedicated, lifelong fire service volunteer. He has held a number of leadership positions, at Vigilant Hose Company in Emmitsburg and in the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. Obviously, his frustration bubbled over and was manifest in a less than productive public reaction.
He used a public meeting of the Board of County Commissioners to remind Commissioner Young that he expected more from his $100 campaign contribution. President Young's reaction was predictable, if not justified.
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a $100 bill. He slapped it down on the dais and implored Mr. Powell to reclaim his bad investment. It should be noted that Mr. Powell refused the offer.
Talk about getting shot down!
It was an incredibly childish reaction on Mr. Powell's part. His anger over the belief that he knows better how to manage the county budget than the five people elected to do so is silly. His reaction was even sillier.
Hopefully, time will suggest he needs to stop acting so petulant. The Board of County Commissioners is in a no-win position with crowds of special interest advocates.
This will only get worse, as evidenced by the quotes from unsuccessful candidates for the Frederick County Board of Education like Janice Spiegel and Aubrey Harbaugh. Both Ms. Spiegel and Ms. Harbaugh have attacked the school board and commissioners for discussing reductions in funding targeting public education. Joining the no-cut chorus is perennial voice of increased education spending, Frederick County Teachers Association President Gary Brennan.
It's hard to imagine why these myopic advocates can't see that cuts will affect every single aspect of the county budget, and will have to impact education and the fire service. The commissioners were elected for a reason. Voters granted this new board the power to make the tough choices based on the promise that given the chance, they would!
Blaine Young's anger over the vote trade for a political contribution allegation by Wayne Powell is justified. If Mr. Powell thought by offering an unsolicited campaign contribution of $100, it would result in an official who would vote on demand according to Mr. Powell's desire suggests his view of the world is askew.
There will be more of this weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth over budget cuts. There will be more allegations of cronyism, favoritism and ignorance. County taxpayers are suffering, and the pain that results from adjusting our spending habits will cause further friction.
Expect more of these shootouts. Marshall Young will come packing the necessary budget cutting ammo, and his posse is along for the ride, at least for the next four years.