Archive for the ‘County government’ category

Does Burning Money Increase MoCo’s Carbon Footprint?

28 April 2014


Council member Roger Berliner sponsored a set of environmental bills that made it through the council last week.  The worst one — which was passed, of course — requires the county to purchase 100% of its electricity from “clean fuels”.  The current requirement is 30%.

This initiative is all cost, and no benefits.

Based on the county’s fiscal impact statement, the law will increase the county’s energy expenditures in the range of $279,000 – $545,000 per year.  That gets over a million easily, in less than four years.Plaudits to Nancy Floreen, who argued for looking at this from a budgetary standpoint.  None of the other council members thought that was worthwhile.

And what do we get for those millions of dollars? Nothing.   The incremental change from this bill is so infinitesimally tiny that it adds up to nothing. No change in greenhouse gas emissions, no impact on climate change. Zero. Just a meaningless statement and bit of bluster.

So if the environment is not improved, who does benefit from those millions of taxpayer dollars? Well, council members like Berliner and George Leventhal get to crow about their wondrous accomplishment. (Leventhal excelled at playing the pompous windbag on this one.  He called it “the most urgent public policy challenge that we face.”   Really, George? More urgent than homelessness? Crime? Poverty? Educational failures for low-income neighborhoods?)

And certain energy producers, politically favored, get a more than tripling of the subsidy they currently receive. These producers are too expensive to compete, so they work through the political process to extract funds from MoCo taxpayers.

I can understand wanting to reduce emissions from fossil fuels.  I can understand reasonable policy proposals to do that.  But anyone with a lick of sense can also see what is purely symbolic, useless, and wasteful.This is a useless and expensive heap of corporate welfare, that allows the politicians to beat their chests, but accomplishes nothing. Nothing, that is, except take away funds from needs that really are urgent.



Teachers’ Union Endorses Candidates for Council Seats

2 April 2014

See here


Now you know who not to vote for.


Voluntary? I Don’t Think So

9 February 2014


More than half the County Council is sponsoring a bill to create public financing for political campaigns in Montgomery.  The bill would mandate that tax funds go into a new pot of money for candidates to draw from.  Echoing the PR of Councilman Phil Andrews, who is introducing the bill, the Post gushes “Andrews plan is completely voluntary.”   By this, they mean that the pols don’t have to take money from it.  But it’s not voluntary for county taxpayers, who would be forced to pay more money — purely for the benefit of the candidates.

Andrews and the sponsors call it “campaign finance reform.”

I call it “Welfare for Politicians.”


Can’t Stop Spending that Cash of Yours

18 April 2013

Okay, I don’t really feel all that much sympathy for the county executive.  But watching Ike Leggett maneuver is a little like watching a Buster Keaton movie;  “Oh, no, he’s about to walk under that falling piano!”

Just a couple of weeks ago, Leggett put out his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year (2014), detailing plans to (what else?) increase spending and (what else?) increase taxes.  He proposes to increase property taxes by 2.2%.  As the average tax bill in the county is about $4500, that is roughly an additional $100 per household annually.  (You’ve got that just lying around, don’t you?)

Furthermore, he’s is proposing to extend the “temporary” energy tax once again. According to legislation passed two years ago, residential energy taxes are scheduled to go back to 0.5 cents per KWH; instead, they’ll more than double.  Business rates are scheduled at 1.3 cents per KWH; instead, they’ll almost double.  Again, we’re talking hundreds of additional tax dollars to the county, which every home and business has to spare right now because we’re in such flush economic times.

Leggett also proposes to increase spending by $190 million (4.1%) this year, after an increase of $199 million the previous year.
Now comes the County Council budget analysts, who tells us that after increasing spending by $390 million over these two years, the county budget will have a $300 million deficit the following year.

Kate Jacobson, what will I do without you?

What To Do About the Bag Tax?

7 April 2013

What do do about the bag tax?  The County Council is currently considering the question, including options for expanding the tax, increasing it, reducing the types of retail locations which must charge it, and banning plastic bags completely.
MoCo reports that the county has taken in about $2 million from the bag tax, much more than had been expected.  This demonstrates that some combination of the following conclusions is true:

(a) shoppers find bags to be convenient, and are willing to pay for them

(b) grocery shoppers have learned that plastic bags are a more sanitary way of carrying food, and are seeking to avoid the bacterial diseases associated with reusable bags

(c) the bag tax, in the end, has just been a way to raise revenues for the cash-strapped county government.

The negative effects of the bag tax are beginning to pile up:

Retail thefts and shoplifting have surged in areas where bag taxes are put into place, as it becomes much easier for shoplifters to pilfer merchandise and slip it into the shopping bags they are already carrying.  This phenomenon seems to be found wherever bag taxes (or bans) have been put into effect.

Council member Craig Rice has noted a corollary to this problem.  As department stores have become suspicious of people walking around with roomy bags, racial profiling leads to more black men being stopped and interrogated by store security personnel.

– Theft of supermarket grocery baskets has increased. Apparently, people figure that they need a convenient way to carry their purchases, but don’t want to pay extra for bags.

– Most distressingly, researchers are finding evidence of illnesses associated with these bans.  This was predictable, as shoppers are carrying fresh meat, vegetables, and fast food fried chicken and hamburgers in these bags, over and over again.   Even beyond microbial contamination, reusable bags often have toxic materials, like lead, that leach into the food people carry. Senator Charles Schumer of New York has called for a federal investigation of this problem.

One-use bags are also more sanitary.  Since people tend not to wash their reusable bags, they increase the risk of food-borne illness.  Studies of San Francisco, which banned plastic bags in 2007, reported that after the bag ban there was a spike in the number of E. coli cases and increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses.  Another study found that 8 percent of all reusable bags contained E. coli and doubted how often shoppers actually wash their bag.

– Finally, the environmental impacts of the bag tax are at question.  There is anecdotal evidence of reduced bag litter in the county’s waterways, but increased litter from bottles and food packaging, which is harder to carry without a bag.  The bag tax, in effect, creates an incentive for increasing this kind of litter.  Not only that, but the tax increases total resource consumption.  People tended to reuse plastic grocery bags for dog waste, lining trash baskets, etc.  The National Black Chamber of Commerce notes that consumption of store-bought plastic bags increased by 400 percent in Ireland, after that country implemented a bag tax.

The bag tax is a classic example of unintended consequences of legislation.  (OK, that’s a generous term.  I’d say it is an example of a failure of policy analysis).  Unless bringing in more revenue for the county government was the main purpose,  the tax is doing much more harm than good.  Certainly expansion of the tax (or a ban) would be even more harmful.

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and Charter Schools

24 March 2013

Is MCPS superintendent Joshua Starr being hypocritical? He recently wrote in Education Week praise to a Boston pilot school. (Pilot schools are very similar to charter schools, but have somewhat less flexibility in teacher pay and seniority rules). He praised the autonomy given the principal and teachers, and the results of a tailored education that flexibility gives to meet the needs of the students.

Joseph Hawkins notes on Patch that this is nothing new for Starr; he has offered admiration before for progressive schools and others that provide a more flexible approach than that mandated within strict MCPS guidelines. That’s all well and good – but it appears to be just talk. He has spoken out against charter schools, in the fashion of Henry Ford’s dictum about car colors. Everybody should be happy with what MCPS provides – nothing better or different is necessary.

If charter schools are going to be given a chance in Montgomery, they will have to overcome the “one-size-fits-all-and-you-should-be-grateful-we’re-giving-you-this-much” attitude of the teachers’ union and the MCPS leadership.

How The County Made Fire And Rescue Services More Expensive And Less Responsive

10 August 2011

There has been increasing tension between volunteer and professional firefighters in the county.  Meanwhile, due to a political spat, County Executive Leggett has been trying to use the budget to wipe out the little administrative support that the county provides for the volunteer services.

Fire and rescue services in Montgomery, until about 20 years ago, were largely run by local volunteer fire departments.  (MoCo has 19 volunteer fire and rescue departments around the county, administered and staffed as neighborhood organizations).   Some professionals were hired by the county to supplement the staffing.  In the late 1980s, the county began maneuvering to take the departments out of the hands of the volunteers, and place them in the hands of county government.  County employees are easier for the government to control.   Now, the situation has been reversed, and fire departments are staffed largely with county employees, with volunteers filling in remaining spots.   I haven’t seen any suggestions that the services provided by the volunteers are any different than those provided by the unionized firefighters.  It’s simply the standard Montgomery County assumption that things are better left for the government to do.

This transformation has a large fiscal impact, to be sure.  Salaries make up a large portion of fire and rescue expenditures.  But it also has an effect on the connection between the firefighters and the population, and the sense of local community that existed when departments were local volunteer associations.  In MoCo, though, voluntarism and community often take a back seat to the desirability of government control.  It’s a classic example of the subtitle motto of this blog:  government opposes and crowds out civil society.