Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Take What's Comin' (Wednesday LINKS)

The Baltimore Sun has an op/ed column lauding Baltimore County Executive Ken Kamenetz's tact on the teacher pension shift.  The piece notes that due to its population and median income, Baltimore County is poised to be hurt the worst by the new scheme:

Poorer jurisdictions are due to get an influx of direct state aid under the governor's proposal, and richer ones benefit more from Mr. O'Malley's idea to limit income tax exemptions and deductions for the top fifth of earners. The result is that Baltimore County would see a hit of nearly $3 million in the fiscal year that begins in July, with the effects magnified in the years after that.

Despite repeatedly endorsing Mr. Kamenetz's position on pensions, the writer never really explains exactly what that approach is, other than to note:

He is seeking legislation that would allow the county to combine efforts with the school system in areas like information technology, workers compensation, procurement and data management. Mr. Kamenetz believes that the county and schools can eliminate redundancy and save money without affecting what goes on in the classroom.

The general point of the piece becomes clear only at the end:

But the biggest fight Mr. Kamenetz faces, and the one on which he could use some back-up from the other executives, is over the governor's scheme for providing the counties with more revenue to compensate for the new costs they would face.

"Come on, counties!  Don't you see the Governor is trying to give you money?"  Despite the serpentine logic of the column, I think it is a very good explanation of the teacher pension debate, including the suggestion that this shift will provide a platform for pension reform.  If you want to extend the "brace for impact" logic a little further, The Sun may also suggest that it would behoove teacher's unions to get out in front of this avalanche and make suggestions to their independent school boards about how pensions may be restructured, costs may be cut, and balance sheets fixed.

What's more interesting about this piece is that the approach advocated would undercut the benefits of adversarial government.  The Executives don't get a vote on the teacher pension shift, but they do have political power.  Doesn't it make sense for these elected leaders to use whatever influence they may have to fight against a shift so that the eventual compromise is one that hurts the least?  Controversial government actions are subject to compromise but only if the controversy presents itself.  The teacher pension shift is big (and bears repeating).

Kamenetz's "twice for flinching" approach may be accommodating and romantically stoic, but, as The Sun piece notes, Baltimore County will be taking the worst of this change in expenses.  Notably, this is after a recent spat between the County government and the teacher's union related to tight funds and teacher cuts.

I think Ken Ulman knows that teacher pensions will be shifted back to the County.  I also think he is going to make that a very hard decision for our State Legislature and one that comes with as many bells and whistles for the counties as may be available.  That's the way controversial decisions should be made.  With compromise.  Not concession.


Speaking of education funding, the Howard County Board of Education unanimously passed a $697 million operating budget request for FY 2013.  That is a 1.9% increase from 2012.  Here's the bad part:  "But some members noted that the budget did not include a contingency plan for dealing with the possibility that teacher pension costs could be shifted from the state to the county level. French said the Tuesday meeting was not the time or place for such a discussion, but agreed that a full discussion needed to be held in front of the public — and soon. French suggested such a discussion be held during the board's March 8 meeting."  No evacuation plan.

The Howard Delegates' votes on same-sex marriage went 5 for, 3 against.  I wouldn't be surprised to see that as a pretty fair representation of the popular vote in this County should the matter go to a referendum.

Frederick County Commissioners have voted to make English the County's official language.  Proponents say it will deter illegal immigrants from settling in the County...obviously reflecting the fact that illegal immigrants look to obscure County ordinances when determining where they will live.

Meanwhile, back in places that are passing legislation that matters, Baltimore County has passed a transgender discrimination ban, defeating a "bathroom amendment" that would have excluded bathrooms, locker-rooms, and dressing rooms from the protections offered by the new law.  I loved this line from the article: "Opponents of the bill have said it would lead to men dressed as women assaulting females in restrooms, though critics could not point to any specific incidents in places that have transgender anti-discrimination laws."  Doesn't that pretty much sum up any argument against any civil rights bill for the history of time?  "Something horrible's going to happen!!"  "Do you have an example of this happening elsewhere?"  "No, but...HORRIBLE!!"

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah is making a movie!  Ok, so her husband is making a movie, but she is helping and running the website.  This seems like a cool thing to follow, especially since I tend to believe Howard County lacks in the cinema department (despite those warehouses were Homicide and The Wire were filmed).

That's all for today.  I'm feeling a little under the weather, so forgive me if any of the logic was fuzzy (can I put that disclaimer on the bottom of all my posts?  "Geez, Tom really needs to get over that cold.  He's not making a lick of sense.")

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!