Thursday, May 3, 2012

Measures of Permanence (Thursday LINKS)

The last time Howard County saw a tax cut of any kind was 2006.  In that year, the Council passed a measure that would provide low income (>$75,000) seniors, 70 and older, with a 25% discount off of their tax bill.  It appears that before Grover Norquist took on the national spotlight he moonlighted as a commentator on local bills, coming out strongly against this Republican initiative:

"This is a tax cut designed to cut taxes on high-propensity voters while [harming] low-propensity voters, while making broader tax cuts in the future more difficult. You're not being nice to seniors. You're picking the people who remember to vote," Norquist said.

Ah, Grover.  We knew you when.

In contrast, one only has to go back to last year to find the last tax increase (hotel), and that's only if you don't find the "leveling of the fire tax" to be a tax hike (Could the Council have lowered the eastern rate to meet the western rate?  It's a tax increase).  Now our Council is considering yet another increase of the fire tax county-wide.  Fire tax revenues would be projected to jump from $68.7 million to $94.9 million in FY2013.

While the Senior Tax Cut and the Fire Tax Increase do not lend themselves to qualitative comparison, there is an apparent difference in scale.  Overall, the cut was projected to cost the County $4 million a year in lost revenue.  The proposed increases are six times that number.

Why am I comparing apples to peacocks?  Because I wanted to note the general tide of government accounting.  Cuts are small and infrequent.  Increases are large, permanent, and, at least in 2012, semi-annual.  These proposed increases are justified with ledgers that have numbers in between the dreaded (parentheses).  No one considers that the worst possible solution is raising taxes, but rather that it is the best amongst all alternatives.

Call me a hypocrite for supporting increased funding for the Plant to End Homelessness while taking a cautious position on increased taxes.  Go ahead.  (Did you do it?)  But each increase should not only be viewed in its independent capsule but rather an extension of the line from which further taxes will be sought.

I have not returned to the merit of a fire tax increase, but would suggest that one tax increase (County-wide leveling) may be enough for FY13.  If it isn't, there is a near $20 million reserve fund as a back-stop.  "But! We can't touch that!  It's reserves!"  Right, but that same protective glass that is placed over the reserve fund should be triple paned and set with an alarm over any decision to increase taxes.  Because when you do, its permanent.  You all aren't coming back to give us a $4 million tax cut any time soon.


In his testimony before the Council, Fire Chief Bill Goddard said that he had originally asked for more money than the Executive was willing to provide for in tax increases.  Rather than 17.6 cents per $100 assessed, Chief Goddard proposed a 20 cent standard. 

Also in this piece is a summary of Budget Director Ray Wacks's testimony, in which he addresses the possibility of no tax increase:

Without a fire tax increase, Wacks said the fund balance would be completely dried up by the end of fiscal year 2013 and the fire department would be facing a $2.5 million to $2.7 million deficit. To avoid a deficit and just break even for fiscal 2013, he said the fire tax would have to be raised to roughly 14.2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

If you want to be informed about this important issue that will be the focus of County law-makers over the next month, I highly recommend Lindsey's piece.  The Council asked some very good questions.

O's win the series against the Yankees with a 5-0 gem performance by Jake Arrietta.  I can't decide whether to give my heart to this team.  Right now we're still friends.

While I like the idea of Adam Jones and Robert Andino putting "birds on things" in New York City, I rue the future date when Nick Swisher and (is there another "fun" Yankee?) puts that cursive nonsense all over Charm City sometime this summer.  Thankfully, like a good castle, unfamiliarity with the highways and byways of our dear fortress of Baltimore is a very dangerous proposition, and Mr. Swisher may be satisfied with an "NY" on the Bromo Seltzer building before calling it a day.

One of the neat things about our School Board, and many others across the Country, is that it has a student member that gets to vote on some significant substantive issues.  They are precluded from voting on certain items (land purchasing, hiring decisions, etc.), but still get into the rough and tumble of political discourse with their elected colleagues.  I wish the newest member, Cole Rosenberg, the best of luck and am truly appreciative of his service.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: 53 Beers posts an excerpt from the HowardPublicEd listserv, which shows "disagreement" between Howard High Senior Corey Andrews and Board of Education candidate Ann DeLacy.  For the record, I believe it is "died and made you king."  "Died and made you God" does not make one lick of sense.  Nor does the sentiment behind it.

That's all for today.  I hope you all have a great day doing what you love!