I still have to finish my piece on the recommended changes to the budget but that post got interrupted AGAIN, this time by County Executive Kittleman’s long awaited proposal on the stormwater fee.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I found his press conference announcing his intent to introduce the legislation frustrating. While of course I disagree with his proposal to “phase out” the stormwater fee that is not what frustrated me. Instead I found the format, process, and “meat” of the proposal to be lacking and distasteful.
I am not, at least not at this point, going to discuss or debate any of the internal frameworks of how the stormwater fee is levied. Truthfully, I think there are some legitimate claims that the stormwater fee, as currently established is not effectively, efficiently, or fairly assessed. Additionally I am not discussing how the revenue generated from the stormwater fee is spent. While I think it is possible that claims could be made about how effective the projects paid for with the fee are, the Executive made no such claim in the press conference. Instead, he made the audacious claim that program would remain as it is; the stormwater fee would just no longer be the means by which we pay for the program.
The essence of my problem with the Executive’s proposal can be summed up in one sentence “What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?” You see, the last Republican who was County Executive understood when and where dedicated funding streams made sense. County Executive Chuck Ecker established a trash fee. The revenue for the trash fee can only be used to pay for waste collection and processing. I can’t speak to specific intent but I can say that fairly universally, dedicated funding sources are created in government revenue streams when goods or services are required of the government but the revenue for said goods or services often struggle to find solid backing competing against other priorities. Additionally, it helps when, in the case of both the trash fee and the stormwater fee, the cost for that good or service can be directly linked to those who need the good or service or those who are causing the need.
What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?
What Executive Kittleman has proposed is to eliminate the dedicated funding source for stormwater remediation. Based on his press conference he supports protection of the Chesapeake Bay and has every intention of continuing full funding for the program, but will simply eliminate the source of its money. If we take him at his word, then that means that he will need to cut from the budget the equivalent of what is raised through the stormwater fee.
So I ask again What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?
He admitted as much during his brief discussion of how budgets are about priorities and choices. I agree with that statement though I find perplexing that the example he used was the police helicopter, a program he opposed funding while on the County Council, on the day after it was used to help a mentally ill man.
As we know from the last budget, 59% of the budget is dedicated to education and 12% goes towards public safety. While you may have an image of our County budget being gloated and filled with fat and/or pork, you would be mistaken. So, I will ask one more time:
What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?
Finally, the lack of process before the introduction is quite telling. I heard nothing of any public process for the deliberation that lead to the proposal and furthermore, if he was serious about this proposal and it wasn’t just a political stunt as it appears to me to be, why would he not include any of the Democratic Council members in the deliberations? Of course they disagree but this is a bill that has to pass the Council and if he actually wanted it to pass, he would have had to include them in the process to find a compromise everyone could stomach. If, however, what he wanted was a political stunt then he would do . . . precisely what he did.
All of those aside though, let us not confuse the issue. County Executive Kittleman’s proposal to phase out the stormwater fee will bleed funding from other projects. This is a budget that already has a zero in such things as road resurfacing (covered in an earlier post) and while most would argue very much against that being budget fat, that was the fat he forced himself to cut in this last budget. So one last time, What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?