Categories
Government Montgomery County

What’s wrong with higher taxes?

Adam Pagnucco at The Seventh State recently wrote about Montgomery County’s spending during the pandemic, arguing that the county needs to balance the budget. His alternative was to threaten a tax hike. It seems unlikely the federal government will send more funds to state and local governments under another stimulus program. The situation is a lot more nuanced than that, and direr if the county cuts or stops spending to help residents during a pandemic in which the federal government has been unable and unwilling to offer relief.

Tax rates

First, let’s get taxes out of the way. Montgomery County has one of the lowest real, personal, and utility tax rates in the entire state. Only a handful of counties have lower tax rates than Montgomery County. We happen to live in one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country, with five billionaires that made the Forbes’ 400 richest American’s list in 2019. Five. Billionaires. Let’s put billions into perspective though. It’s a hard number to grasp because it’s so much larger than anything most Americans will have access to. 10,000 seconds is about one-tenth of an entire day. 100,000 seconds is a little over one day. 1,000,000 is about 11 days. 1,000,000,000 seconds is…a little over 31 years.

Let’s also consider that Montgomery County has the most households in Maryland and the highest median household income per capita in Maryland, according to the 2010 U.S. Census and the 2010-2014 American Community Survey.

So Montgomery County has the most households and is one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country (and coincidentally also in Maryland) but also has one of the lowest tax rates in the state.

Residents in crisis

There are around 130,000 rental units in Montgomery County and 15% of them haven’t been able to pay full rent during the pandemic. The Department of Housing and Community Affairs estimates that landlords are losing around $35 million a month in rent. Now, I’m not a huge fan of landlords, but this sounds pretty bad. In fact, a looming eviction crisis would absolutely devastate the economy in Montgomery County. We would lose 22,000 residents and any taxes that they pay. The only good thing that would come of it would be lower rents for those that could afford to stay (maybe). We can also assume that if these folks can’t pay rent, they can’t pay utilities.

In addition to housing, many residents are struggling to buy necessities, including food. We’ve all seen pictures of endless lines of cars while they wait for grocery distribution at one of the distribution points in the county.

Students enrolled at MCPS and their families are having a hard time accessing school-provided lunches. Parents have to go back to work because no one can afford extended shutdowns when the federal government can’t function. Students have to spend time managing the household while their parents are working.

Taxes aren’t the bogeyman

Taxes pay for services that residents use daily. Utilities, roads, first responder services, police, traffic lights, public transportation, schools, libraries, etc. They also are used to pay for emergency services that residents have needed during the pandemic. Without these services, the county would ultimately be in a much worse situation. Imagine having one of the lowest tax rates in the state but not the tax base to maintain it. We are already in a precarious situation, banking on continual population growth to maintain the tax revenue needed to fund county services. What happens if mass evictions take place once the eviction moratorium ends? If residents can’t pay rent, they certainly won’t be able to pay any back rent once the pandemic ends. Where are they going to go? Montgomery County is one of the most expensive places to live in the entire DMV. They won’t stay here. Montgomery County doesn’t have enough housing, let alone affordable housing.

Fewer taxes means more potholes, fewer first responders, fewer new books at libraries, more classrooms being overcrowded, aging infrastructure that can’t be replaced, fewer health and mental health services, slower public transportation. When people talk about “balancing budgets” and threaten tax hikes, they never consider the impact it will have on everyday services for everyday people. During non-pandemic times, we never had enough money or will to fund services that middle and low-income residents needed to stay afloat. Now that we have a pandemic and a looming financial and housing crisis, we need more government spending, not less. This is precisely the time for a tax hike. Don’t be fooled by people who claim austerity is the way to go. We don’t need a balanced budget, we need to help our residents survive a pandemic.

If you feel that this helped you in any way, consider buying MoCo Local a coffee or beer. You can do so through Venmo (@Vito-Anastasia).

Categories
County Council Education Uncategorized

Legislation will be introduced to remove SROs from schools

On Saturday at a protest calling for the defunding of Montgomery County Police, Councilmembers Will Jawando and Hans Riemer announced that they would introduce legislation that would remove school resource officers from Montgomery County Public Schools. They will recommend that these funds be used to increase mental health resources, including counselors, and nurses.

Councilmember Jawando stated that:

“It’s not just enough to remove the potential harm of the police, you’ve got to invest that money into things the kids need. … It’s our job to say what our police can and cannot do,” Jawando said in an interview on Saturday. “We pass the laws and the executive has to implement them. It’s totally within our rights since this SRO program is totally funded through the police budget, that we would say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that.’”

Jawando, Riemer announce bill to get rid of police officers in schools

Previously, the Montgomery County School Board requested further research into the issue before making a decision. When this issue was brought before the Montgomery County Council, several members were reluctant to make any changes and tabled the discussion until the Board of Education made recommendations.

Data that is currently available has shown that Black youth are disproportionately arrested at MCPS schools. This correlates with findings nationally.

If you support the removal of police from schools, you should email all of the Councilmembers, as well as the County Executive. Their e-mails are below. If you need a template for what to say, I’ve placed what I sent below as well.

TO: marc.elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov, councilmember.glass@montgomerycountymd.gov, councilmember.hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov, Councilmember.Albornoz@montgomerycountymd.gov, councilmember.riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov, Councilmember.Friedson@montgomerycountymd.gov, Councilmember.Jawando@montgomerycountymd.gov, councilmember.rice@montgomerycountymd.gov, councilmember.katz@montgomerycountymd.gov, councilmember.navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov

BODY:

Dear County Executive Elrich, Council President Katz, and members of the County Council,

My name is Vito Anastasia and I live in Bethesda. I’ve lived in Montgomery County for the past five years and have decided to make it my home. In the past few years I’ve been an active member of the local queer community, a member of the LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County, and have started MoCo Local as a passion project.

I write to you today to ask that you abolish School Resource Officers from Montgomery County Public Schools. Councilmember Jawando and Councilmember Riemer will be introducing legislation to do just that and I urge you to support it.

We know that Black students make up just 21% of the student population but account for 48% of arrests at MCPS. We also know that Maryland incarcerates Black youth and adults at much higher rates than many other states. Students do not need police in schools. They need more counselors, access to more and better programs for youth, workforce development opportunities, and free, safe public spaces. We have got to stop criminalizing and penalizing students when we do not offer adequate services to help them navigate all of the struggles that they face. We have to end the school to prison pipeline.

I urge the County Council to abolish the School Resource Officer program and instead:

  1. Reinvest funds into mental health programs and resources, including additional counselors
  2. Reinvest funds into more full-time nurses
  3. Invest in harm reduction programs including affordable housing, homelessness services for youth, workforce development, and dedicated free and safe spaces for youth

Police do not prevent crime, they react to it. We have been witness to countless murders at police hands and have seen how different Black youth and adults are policed versus white youth and adults. We have to do better.

Best regards,

Vito Anastasia

Categories
Opinion

OPINION: Local Law Enforcement Doesn’t Know How to Read the Room

As we do the work required to make our County safer for every resident, especially our Black neighbors, we need to take a long and hard look at the system that has allowed systemic racism to continue, and in some instances, flourish in Montgomery County. One of the first things you learn when trying to be an ally, and especially an anti-racist, is the need to listen. Listening to the folks that are being impacted the most by these policies and systems is one of the first steps in rectifying the harm caused.

Earlier this week, Councilmember Tom Hucker organized a “Community Discussion on Policing” but failed to invite activists within the Black community that has been calling out systemic racism in Montgomery County for years. Worse, though, is the fact that Councilmember Hucker asked a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police to be a part of the discussion. Both MCPD Chief Marcus Jones and Torrie Cooke from the FOP were allowed to answer questions about the budget and asked for additional funds to pay for more training and hire more resources. They called for changing the current structure of the MCPD. Still, they refused to discuss the need to defund and reallocate funds from the MCPD budget and put them into areas that would benefit the community more.

I released an initial statement on my thoughts about the discussion on Twitter:

A few days later, Law Enforcement Officials announced a discussion about Law Enforcement and the Community but failed to invite any members of the community as panelists.

This is a disgrace. Montgomery County deserves better than this. These are conversations Montgomery County should have had years ago with the killing of Emmanuel Okutuga in 2011, or in 2018 after the murder of Robert White or this past May after the killing of Finan Berhe. The protests around the County and region were sparked by the murder of George Floyd-and let’s be clear; it was a murder, not an “abhorrent loss of life”-aren’t really about George Floyd. They are about the systemic racism within Montgomery County Law Enforcement agencies, like MCPD, that allows the status quo to continue.

Local activists within the Black community have been calling for the need to change for years. The Montgomery County Council only recently passed the Racial Justice and Social Equity bill. The Council also just established the Police Advisory Committee. These are all reasonable first steps, but more needs to be done.

Community organizations in Montgomery County are calling this discussion performative, and it feels like it is. Only after hundreds, maybe thousands now, of emails to defund MCPD are they starting to hint that they may be open to change. However, if you want to have an honest conversation with the community, you need to invite them to the table. Having conversations that center around Law Enforcement is not the way forward. Montgomery County needs to take to heart what members of the Black community have to say, and Law Enforcement should listen.

We aren’t going to solve the systemic racism in Montgomery County by training police more, hiring more of them, and ignoring the fact that MCPD has killed three black men in the past decade. Our way forward, and at this point, the only way is to engage with anti-racist community organizations as equal participants in these conversations.

Categories
Government

Total Revenue in MoCo projected to increase

The Council will vote on a resolution to approve the Tax Supported Fiscal Plan Summary for the Fiscal Years 2020-25. Revenue is projected to increase in each fiscal year–2.0% in FY21, 2.5% in FY22, 2.9% in FY23, 3.2% in FY24, and 3.0% in FY25–while resources available to agencies still remain below pre-recession levels.