Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Seven Percent Solution (Wednesday LINKS)

As expected, the Teacher Pension Shift proposal has the eye of county governments across Maryland and has the prospect of doing significant damage to local budgets.  While just about all County leaders are fighting against this bill, I have not read anything from Annapolis suggesting that the shift is otherwise imperiled.  The only discussion I've heard is "which knife" -- proportional shift or "each according to their ability to pay" (as advocated for by Baltimore City leaders)...(and if you were to ask me, I would see things going this way, since any other solution would cripple Baltimore City budgets for the next decade, thereby injuring a significant engine of Maryland economic growth).

But our County is prepared.  Lindsay McPherson writes that Howard County's Budget Administrator and other administration leaders are preparing for the $6 million to $17 million burden:

"What the county executive has done is gone to department heads and asked them for alternative plans to reduce (their) budget request by seven percent," Wacks said.

This is good leadership and I hope the Ulman administration shares these proposed reductions with the public (regardless of whether they are implemented), paired with an expected reduction in service, performance, or efficiency.  I've long thought that all government departments should have "Evacuation Plans" as a matter of course so that when contraction is necessary, it can be executed in a well-planned manner without undermining the government service at issue.  Cutting taxes is a legitimate objective of government leadership, regardless of party affiliation.  Nonetheless, the character of government is to grow, not to retract, unless an elected leader dictates otherwise.  From my perspective, the best way to do this is by way of cooperation with leaders within the administration who know (as deeply held secrets) where the trimming can be made.

Have no doubt that these are sincerely difficult decisions.  Everyone is a government slasher until they sit down at the table with the person who prepared the budget.  Everyone thinks the government is too big until they work in the cubicle next to a person whose job is cut.  And let's not forget about our books.  As extension of something noted in Lindsey's piece, Citizen A notices a tax cut once.  They notice a reduction in library books repeatedly over the course of their residency in the County.

The Board of Education would do well to create their own 7% solution and Evacuation Plans.  If the Teacher Pension Shift is to occur, which I predict it will, you can be certain that Executive Ulman will expect a pound of flesh from the BoE...if not more.  Proportionally, the greatest opportunity for reduction in spending is in the Education Budget, regardless of what kind of horrors that may raise in the heads of parents and teachers.  This shift is going to hurt all of us in measurable and concrete ways that we notice.  Ken Ulman is doing the right thing by making sure we see it coming and the cuts are as painless as possible.


Sara Toth notes that Howard County's most prominent teacher's union plans to recommend to the Board of Education that they either seek mediation or quit.  With all due respect to the HCEA, I don't think you can fix agitation with agitation.  This is like a wife telling her husband that he either clean the dishes or move out of the house.  It is not going to get those dishes clean.  In fact, I think agitation has stressed this Board out.  Every single thing they do is met with such scrutiny and criticism that it appears to be impossible to operate.  They work under the constant threat of litigation, whether that be tort or impeachment.  That will fray your nerves, and that's coming from an attorney.  What I would recommend, to both the HCEA and the Board, is to just take it down a notch.  The soap-box speeches aren't going anywhere.  The threat of litigation is not going anywhere.  But you need to find a way to operate above it.  Ignore what you can.  Recognize that there are other good people sitting on the Board with you.  And keep everything on the up and up.

Lindsey McPherson's Political Notebook: "As County Executive Ken Ulman spends more time making connections in other parts of the state, other gubernatorial hopefuls are making some connections of their own — here in Howard County."  

It appears that the Grand Prix will not be going anywhere.  Baltimore City has reached a new five year deal with "Downforce Racing."  Respectfully, that sounds like a Speed Racer bad guy.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: If you link to two local blogs in a single post, you stand a good chance to get the daily nod.  Sarah visits the Family Market, runs into WB, and notes that both of them ended up there after reading a post on HowChow.  It's like getting extra credit in first grade for using two "words of the week" in a single sentence!

That's all for today.  I should note that I had another nice surprise courtesy of the blog yesterday.  My 6th Grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Stout, sent me an e-mail noting that he reads the blog.  That was pretty cool.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!