Leggett, 68, has not announced his plans, but it is widely believed within county political circles that he will run for a third term in 2014. That has led to speculation on the council that the contracts are intended to help smooth his way with Montgomery’s influential public employee unions.
Leggett aides reject that idea and point out that the raises are paltry compared with the savings accrued over the four years of wage freezes and furloughs, which officials place at an estimated $469 million, and to the financial ground workers have lost.
(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post) - Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett
“These pay increases will not reverse the erosion of our employees’ buying power,” Leggett said in his message to Navarro. “It only restores a fraction of the lost wages that they experienced.”
Leggett said he negotiated the raises because binding arbitration — required under the county charter for labor negotiations that reach an impasse — could have resulted in a doubling or tripling of the unions’ financial package.
Two weeks ago, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled against Leggett in cases brought by three county unions challenging his 2011 decision to reject arbitrator-awarded contracts. An attorney for the County Council has said Leggett’s concerns about arbitration are overstated.
Council member Phil Andrews, a candidate for county executive, said he will propose taking $11.4 million of the $31.6 pay package and using it to reduce the energy tax expansion by 10 percent. That would cut pay raises by about a third. “This would treat both the County employees and taxpayers fairly,” Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) said in a statement.
The bulk of the new agency spending in Leggett’s budget goes to K-12 education, public safety and libraries.
Funding for Montgomery County public schools would increase by $55.8 million (2.2 percent). That amount meets the state “maintenance of effort” requirement that per-pupil funding not fall below the previous year’s level.
The Board of Education and Superintendent Joshua P. Starr had requested an additional $10 million, but Leggett said that if the school system wants the money, it should draw on reserves it carried over from previous years totaling about $40 million. School officials said they included $17 million of that money in their 2014 budget proposal.
Starr and Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay indicated Friday that they would continue to press the council for new county dollars to cover the $10 million.
In a statement, Starr said he was disappointed that Leggett is asking the school system “to use money it has set aside to ensure the long-term financial stability of our school district.”