Irresponsible Governance, Unsustainable Commitments
In “a tale of two counties” the editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post wonders what has happened to Fairfax and Montgomery counties since they “used to be about even.” The editorial writers set the stage this way:
“Montgomery County has just completed a nightmarish budget year. Stressed, squabbling and besieged elected officials savaged services and programs and jacked up taxes to eliminate an eye-popping deficit of almost $1 billion in a $4.3 billion spending plan. Meanwhile, across the Potomac River in Fairfax County, all was sweetness and light by comparison. With a budget roughly equal to Montgomery's, Fairfax officials erased a deficit a quarter as large with relative ease and far less drama.”
According to the Post, the two counties have taken different paths, and they describe it this way:
“The region's two largest jurisdictions -- demographic cousins with populations around 1 million, school systems among the nation's biggest and best, and public spending equal to that of small countries -- have parted ways. To put it bluntly, Montgomery is lurching under the weight of irresponsible governance, unsustainable commitments and political spinelessness -- particularly in the face of politically powerful public employees unions.” (emphasis added)
The Post concludes their lengthy editorial saying Montgomery County requires a cultural shift, after saying that:
“ . . . The county has just about run out of revenue-raising options, having boosted nearly its entire menu of taxes to the legal or practical limit. Montgomery's higher taxes already put it at a competitive disadvantage with Fairfax, which has a wide lead in attracting business and creating high-wage jobs; now Montgomery risks a downward spiral. To avoid that, a cultural shift must take place . . . .”
One difference between Montgomery and Fairfax counties, as the Post points out, “Virginia law denies public employees collective bargaining rights; that's helped Fairfax resist budget-busting wage and benefit demands. ” Would Arlington County be in the same fiscally unsustainable position as Montgomery County if not for being a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia? Maybe the five panjandrums on the Arlington County Board should stop asking the Commonwealth for greater authority, e.g., on property rights or weakening of the Dillon Rule? Take a few minutes and read the entire Post editorial, and then ask yourself whether Arlington County taxpayers could withstand similar fiscal commitments as the taxpayers of Montgomery County?