Skip to comments.Powerful unions drive Montgomery's huge spending [Montgomery County MD]
Posted on 06/07/2010 3:38:07 PM PDT by freespirited
Montgomery and Fairfax counties, while similar in size, wealth and demographics, are headed in radically different directions in resolving their budget crises, partly because of strong unions in the Maryland county.
Montgomery was left with a $1 billion budget crater for next fiscal year that it is filling with huge tax increases on everything from utilities to cell phones to ambulance rides. Fairfax faced a budget gap only a quarter the size of Montgomery's and has handled it with minimal pain to county residents.
To some analysts, the tax increases in Montgomery are the result of years of ballooning payments to the county's public-sector unions, which secured some pay increases that rose nearly three times as fast as inflation.
"The unions are too powerful; there's no question," said Nancy Dacek, a former county councilwoman. "I'm not saying they are evil, but they have gone beyond their role. Their demands are just too high. The question is: Are you willing to stand up to them? Most officials aren't."
Case in point: The Montgomery teachers union and school officials threatened to sue the county after council members hinted at teacher furloughs and slashing the school budget by an additional $30 million. Council members ultimately backed off such extensive cuts and furlough talk, and the schools dropped their threat.
When money was flowing freely, Montgomery unions pushed on county leaders to deliver exorbitant salaries and benefits in exchange for political backing needed to survive in a county government dominated by one-party Democrat rule, critics say. County officials running for reelection routinely donated money to unions, who in turn showered them with money and endorsements.
When Montgomery coffers emptied, the county was still bound by the agreements.
"Our problems were caused by a combination of overly generous pay and benefit increases that were not only unsustainable over time but became unaffordable when the economy tanked," said Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville.
Salaries doubled for most Montgomery County workers between 1999 and 2009, while inflation rose 37 percent. Paychecks for Fairfax employees were also more generous but did not grow at the same pace as Montgomery.
Compensation and benefits for Montgomery employees account for 80 cents of every dollar of taxpayer money spent. Even with the recession, pay raises for county employees eclipsed the private sector by more than 15 percent during the past four years.
Fairfax union leaders have watched the developments with envy.
"We basically don't have a seat at the table when it comes to negotiating contracts," said Marshall Thielen, president of Fairfax County's police union. But speaking about Montgomery's situation, he added, "If the political leaders are stupid enough to give up the store, that's on them, not on the union."
Fairfax County police are suing the county for not giving them agreed-upon longevity raises, but fire and sheriff's office workers declined to join the lawsuit.
The $4.3 billion budget passed by the Montgomery County Council was the first spending drop in more than four decades.
Montgomery County Public Schools' tax-supported operating budget has grown by more than 75 percent in the past decade, far surpassing other county agencies. Teachers enjoy salaries 20 percent higher than their Fairfax peers.
Still, unions weren't unscathed during last month's budget talks.
County employees lost their "phantom" cost-of-living increases, negotiated a year ago as a way to help offset pay freezes. And county workers -- except school employees -- will be furloughed next fiscal year, with some losing 3 percent of their salaries.
An ensuing furlough spat has driven a wedge between the once-unified unions.
Gino Renne, president of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization, says the maneuvering by school officials illustrates not a union takeover, but a school stranglehold on public officials.
"People have to get off this perception that we're the problem," he said. "It's less about unions dominating politics than the school system dominating politics."
» Salaries doubled for most county workers between 1999 and 2009, while inflation rose 37 percent.
» County pays 90 percent of health care premium costs for school employees and roughly 80 percent for the rest of its work force.
» Teachers received a nearly 30 percent pay increase in recent years and more than 2,620 school employees make more than $100,000.
Unlike in Maryland, public employee unions are barred from collective bargaining in Virginia.
Yet another reason why unions are nothing more than a drain on society.
Outlaw public employee unions.
Fairfax, my county!
Grew up in it’s nether reaches in the 60’s and 70’s... left in ‘92.
Last time I visited it was like going to Mars.
I worked at a bike shop in Burtonsville in the 70’s, would ride up Briggs Chaney from Cloverly to Old Columbia Pike.
In ‘84 I had a bike shop in Olney.
When I last visited in 2007, the only thing that was sort of “original” was having a burger at Siebel’s restaurant.
Never mind. Googled it and answered my own question. LOL Looks like they're still alive and kicking, even in 2010. I used to like to go fishing at Scott's Cove (home of the meanest damned geese I've ever seen), and liked to poke my head in the country market going by on Saturdays.