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Posted at 10:33 AM ET, 02/12/2009

Where Has All the Vision Gone in Md.?

By Gina Acosta

By Doug Duncan
Former county executive of Montgomery County

Pity the poor Maryland state or local elected officials facing reelection in 2010. Their response to the fiscal crisis has been reactive and uninspired, and voters are getting angrier by the day. Montgomery County voters recently passed the Ficker amendment, a tax cap measure, as their first salvo.

No one in office today has ever seen anything like the current crisis. The economy is collapsing, tax revenue is in free fall, services must be slashed, job losses are accelerating, home foreclosures are skyrocketing, and yet our state and local elected officials act as if they’ve been there and done that. Based on their response so far, we are in a run-of-the-mill recession with recovery just around the corner. So they do what they’ve always done: Raise taxes here, cut around the edges there, raid reserves everywhere, repeat every few months and pray that they get through their next election. No thought is given to rethinking, just going through the familiar drills.

Their one concession to how different these times are is to climb aboard the federal bailout bandwagon and cry “Feds to the rescue, Feds to the rescue!” Difficult decisions don’t have to be made in Annapolis because the federal stimulus will plug all the holes in the budget that gambling revenue won’t. River Road is washed away by a broken water main, and a Montgomery County Council member blames the federal government because the feds haven’t given the county money for WSSC infrastructure maintenance. Far too much faith is being placed in the Obama stimulus package as the solution to every problem, rather than the stopgap measure that it is.

The federal stimulus does give our state and local elected officials more time to adjust to the economic changes, but after the stimulus is gone a very slowly recovering economy will still be there. Fundamental changes must be made at the state and local level to respond to the worst economy since the Great Depression, and the public must be involved in the decisions that are made. First, though, the public has to be informed, honestly and courageously.

Trust and confidence in government need to be restored, and it has to start with an honest accounting about the challenges we face along with a vision of where we want to go. It’s time to be truthful to the public and acknowledge that government’s capabilities must be reshaped for some time to come. Can state and local elected officials get back to basics by adopting zero-based budgeting and conducting a healthy review of government’s core missions and competencies? Can they decide a program is no longer affordable and then cut it entirely out of the budget? Can they get ahead of the revenue forecasts and stop changing budgets every few months? Can they redesign services to face a new economic reality? For their reelection’s sake, they better hope they can, because if they can’t, the voters will replace them with others who will.

By Gina Acosta  | February 12, 2009; 10:33 AM ET
Categories:  economy  
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Well, no one ever said that Doug Duncan lacks for chutzpah, but his latest foray into the world of Alice in Wonderland takes the cake. As County Executive, or should I say, as Governor Wanna Be, he and his friends on the Council helped to create the pickle that the County finds itself in now. In his six year quest to be Governor, Doug Duncan rolled over for every union request and program request that got even close to him. In his last four years in office, the County’s operating budget increased by 33%, while inflation hovered at 14% and the County population grew by less than 3%. Most of that budget growth was because of extremely generous agreements with unions negotiated by Duncan (Union support was desperately sought by Duncan for financial support in his quest for higher office), and a proliferation of programs and grants (who’s beneficiaries he hoped would donate to his cause and vote for him). Now, he has found religion and suddenly developed a sense of fiscal responsibility. Unbelievably, he has the gall to criticize local officials that are left with the mess he was instrumental in creating. While the current economic situation certainly has exacerbated the problem, the reality is that if Duncan had been a County Executive that was focused on running the County rather than running for Governor, we might be in a better situation now. If this is Duncan's attempt to show the public that he's reengineered himself into a fiscal conservative before another run for public office -- please spare us all.

Posted by: scrabble1 | February 13, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

The traditional solution is to tax the home owner for everything plus. How much longer will that work? Who will be the last one?

Posted by: gary4books | February 14, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Mr Duncan doesn't go so far as to say "I was wrong" and in fact he wasn't wrong... for the times in which he was County Executive.

But he's right. He correctly points out that most of the sitting Council are what old sailors call "Fair Weather Freddie", which is to say, when you've got red skies at night (sailor's delight) you can let this guy steer the ship because even if he falls asleep at the wheel, you're in deep waters far from anything and the weather looks great far beyond the horizon.

In such a situation, there's nothing that Fair Weather Freddie can possibly do that can trouble the ship, outside of maybe taking an axe and knocking out the bilge scupper plug, or maybe twisting the tail of Mrs O'Leary's Cow until she kicks over a kerosene lamp.

But we've got Red Skies At Morning (sailors take warning!) and Fair Weather Freddie doesn't know how to do anything but keep the ship of State headed in one direction. If Fair Weather Freddie isn't relieved by an Able Seaman, or better yet, some salty old dog of a captain who knows the reefs and can fight his ship, that ship's going to run aground running ahead of the wind, or heel right over in an unskilled turn. No, the storms are rising fast, but Fair Weather Freddie is too clueless to even see the signs and send for the Cap'n and Mates.

It's time to bring up the folks who know where the rocks are, who can read a map, and know how to steer without shifting the load.

Doug Duncan isn't that man, but he's no Fair Weather Freddie even if he isn't an Able Mate. When he sees the whitecaps coming at least he knows to raise a holler that will be believed and bring out the crew on the double.

Believe him when he says it's time for people with skills and vision in our government, not Fair Weather Freddie dreaming as he steers asleep on his feet.

"Adrift on the seas of Fate, the Ship of Fools is piloted by the Grateful Dead."

Posted by: thardman | February 15, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

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