Thursday, November 07, 2019

MoCo Council approves budget-busting developer-backed housing scheme

The Montgomery County Council quietly adopted a developer-backed regional housing scheme in a unanimous vote Wednesday. A vote that received little attention from the local media, and was preceded by no public process to promote taxpayer buy-in. Why was that? Probably because the plan, along with the almost-certain Kirwan Commission spending increases ahead, is likely to bankrupt Montgomery County and lead to massive future tax hikes. And because each of the nine councilmembers has accepted thousands of dollars from their developer sugar daddies.

Only the Council itself appeared eager to brag about its vote in a press release yesterday. But braggadocio doesn't substitute for mathematics aptitude nor budgeting skill, as the Council's annual structural budget deficit proves. The Council just put you, the taxpayer, on the hook for a massive spending increase - in education, social services, police and fire, health care, and developer tax giveaways - even as they (presumably?) know there's no way in hell future councils will be able to pay for it.

What does approving the developer-backed Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' "regional housing targets" actually mean? It obligates Montgomery County to build 23000+ new housing units for low and middle-income residents by 2030, in addition to those already planned. The County Council couldn't even be honest about that in the press release, which falsely claimed the number as 10,000 additional low-income units.
The initiative sounds good, and like most developer initiatives, it's meant to. The reality is, the scheme is all about developer profits, and taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

MWCOG itself predicts that 75% of the new residents coming to Montgomery County by 2030 will be low or mid-income residents. That not only means they will contribute little in tax revenue to the county, but that spending will have to skyrocket to provide the services and infrastructure such a population surge would require.

This would be difficult enough of a fiscal equation to square - massive new spending, with only 25% of the new residents able to shoulder the huge costs. But then you look at the bigger picture, and the alarm bells really start going off.

Montgomery County's moribund economy, job creation, business starts, and business growth are all rock-bottom in the regional rankings this decade. Despite record-high tax rates and tax hikes, revenue is actually declining, even as the County Council continues to spend more. Many of the ultra-wealthy have fled Montgomery County to lower-tax jurisdictions in our region, taking huge chunks of revenue that used to balance the County budget with them. Greater spending, fewer revenue-generating simply doesn't add up, no matter what brand of calculator you use.
Then you look at the debt and cost obligations of the County. The bond rating agencies have already criticized the current Council's budgetary dirty tricks, which have failed to adequately fund government retiree health benefits, for example. Our councilmembers might be shocked to learn that even governments have to pay their bills. How such incompetent people were allowed to take power is a sad commentary on the sham, Soviet-style 2018 election, which had no general election debates or local media coverage of the County Council races. Joseph Stalin would be proud.

Debt is skyrocketing. If the County's current debt was a department, it would be the third-largest department in the County budget. The last thing a sane elected official would do in that situation is agree to a massive spending increase.
Finally, there's the coming budgetary atomic bomb: The Kirwan Commission. Kirwan is the biggest threat to the County's fiscal health since the state threatened to make the County pay more toward teacher pensions earlier this decade.

Kirwan is proposing astronomical amounts of new education spending, with no appreciable change in the actual curriculum or methods. Spending on education has already been jacked up year after year by the Council, to no avail. Test scores and graduation rates continue to decline, while the achievement gap remains the same or worsens.
Spending hikes proposed by the Kirwan Commission would literally be flushing good money after bad down the MCPS toilet. Money isn't the problem at MCPS. And don't forget, the maintenance-of-effort-on-steroids law adopted by Maryland will require us to maintain that level of spending into the future. There is no escape once these spending increases are approved.

Taken together, the housing targets adoption and the Council's rabid desire to adopt the Kirwan recommendations on the backs of the taxpayers, have placed Montgomery County on an accelerated course to fiscal oblivion. We can't go on like this.


Anonymous said...

What BTB fails to understand is that "affordable rents" are always lower than what the developer can charge if market. Someone must of failed or never took finance 101.

Anonymous said...

"Insufficient housing impacts housing affordability and undercuts economic development that relies on an available workforce. In addition, regional transportation systems are strained as workers commute long distances." -From the Office of Council President Nancy Navarro

With which part of this statement do you disagree, Dyer?

Anonymous said...

Democratic primary was a clown show with several non serious candidates. "Debates" where each person had time to read a couple of sentences.

There was zero media coverage of the general election for council at large. Remember, WTOP wrote more about George Leventhal's socks than they did on the council race.

Also, zero debates for council at large. Usually that would prompt negative articles in the press, but not this time. Surprising that not even the county cable TV arm declined to schedule one.

Then, the morning after the election, headlines read: "Get to know the new councilmen"

Anonymous said...

"George Leventhal's socks", again.

Anonymous said...

9:32 AM Very illustrative of the failure in local media last cycle to inform citizens.

Anonymous said...

"quietly approved" ... "press release"

Which is it?

Anonymous said...

Fun fact: Many folks currently elected in local municipal or county seats ran for office more than once before winning. It's how things work.

Anonymous said...

I imagine it's difficult to raise money and interest when you have zero press coverage or debates. Debates are great forums to draw contrasts.

Anonymous said...

11:48 AM You can't blame the candidates if the press refuses to run even one article, make endorsements or organize debates.

Obviously the Post has cut back local coverage and the Gazette died. Dyer is helping fill the void with his burgeoning network of local sites, covering the neighborhoods of MoCo.

Anonymous said...

If the press made endorsements of anyone but you, you'd be whining even louder.

Anonymous said...

12:06 PM I wasn't running, but traditionally the Post makes endorsements. I guess they've written off many aspects of local coverage.

Anonymous said...

This is simply the opening gambit. Here is the game plan:
>> Council commits to a hugely ambitious target without ANY indication of the cost. Done.
>> Council is shocked, SHOCKED, when staff make cost estimate. It’s in the billions.
>> Council finds that the target can be met by spending “only” a few hundred millions if planning restrictions are eased on all lots <1 mile from a metro station. A small price to pay! Open season for shoe-horning 18 homes onto one SFH lot a la West Virginia Ave.
>> Council has saved billions! We can afford Kirwan, no sweat.
>> Council discovers that the increased density absolutely demands bus rapid transit. Independent Taxing Authority, here we come!

Anonymous said...

Why are "developers" good when they are in Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg, Tennessee, or Howard County, but bad when they are in Montgomery County?