Tax relief, less-costly labor contracts and grass-roots pressure on state legislators to be more responsive to county priorities are part of a long-term policy agenda released this week by Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews, a candidate for county executive in the June 24 Democratic primary.
The 10-page document, titled “Securing Our Future,” features ideas and issues that Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) has promoted for much of his four-term stint on the council. It is part of an effort to present himself as the fiscally conservative, socially progressive alternative to incumbent Isiah Leggett and former county executive Doug Duncan, opponents who together have held the job for nearly 20 years.
Andrews renews his call for the elimination of an increase in energy taxes on homes and businesses passed by the council in 2010, during the recession. The increase adds about $150 a year to residential bills and $1,400 a year for businesses. Andrews has led council efforts to cut the increase by 10 percent each of the past two years and is pursuing another small cut this year.
He proposes recovering the lost revenue — estimated at $92 million in 2015 — by negotiating less-costly contracts with county police, fire and non-uniform employee unions. Under Leggett, union workers will receive wage raises and longevity increases of between 6.75 percent and 9.75 percent in fiscal year 2015, at a cost of $73 million that year and $85 million in fiscal 2016.
Andrews says that with salary and benefits composing 70 percent of county spending, such contracts are not sustainable. He says he would negotiate “modest, steady pay raises” and would do so from a position of strength because he does not take campaign donations from corporations, PACs, unions or developers. Andrews is sponsoring, with unanimous council support, legislation that would create a system of partial public financing of county campaigns.
Much of Andrews’s agenda is contingent on squeezing more money from Annapolis. He contends that the county has for years been shorted by the state on school construction funding and other aid.
And he holds Montgomery’s 32-member legislative delegation, Maryland’s largest, accountable for that. Andrews characterizes the group as captive to lobbyists and statehouse leadership, unwilling to use its collective clout to fend off initiatives that have cost the county money. He cites the shift of millions in teacher pension costs onto the county, along with revisions in the state “maintenance of effort” school funding law that can lock the county into higher and higher rates of annual spending.
Andrews says he would work with state lawmakers to develop an agenda. But he also promises to pressure them if necessary by organizing grass-roots support for county positions within their legislative districts. The idea, he says, is to make sure that the county is “at the table rather than on the menu” in Annapolis.
“Only when our State delegation to Annapolis is united behind the County’s legislative agenda and willing to vote as a block will our County have the bargaining power needed to gain support from delegations from other counties,” Andrews says in the policy document.
State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) pushed back at Andrews’s assertions Tuesday. He pointed to last year’s securing of a gas tax increase to fund mass-transit projects. He said this year’s effort to lay the groundwork for a major school construction package will pay off in the next year or two.
“I would put our level of teamwork and group cohesion against any legislative body I’m aware of,” Raskin said. “It requires real team-building and coalition skills. It’s very different from being one of nine members of the County Council where everyone is from Montgomery.”