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Council Vice President Andrew Friedson's Statement On the FY24 Operating Budget and Amended FY23-28 Capital Improvements Program

MARYLAND, May 19 - For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 18, 2023

Montgomery County Council Vice President Andrew Friedson made the following statement about the the Fiscal Year 2024 Operating Budget. The Council’s final vote on the operating budget and amended capital budget for Montgomery County is scheduled for May 25.

I am deeply concerned about this budget, which was predicated on a false narrative that a 10 percent property tax increase was needed to fund education. This budget did not solve our overwhelming vacancy challenges; it added to them. It did not increase revenues to address the structural deficit; it helped create the structural deficit by using one-time revenues to fund ongoing expenses. There was a suggestion in this budget that we could somehow do everything all at once without any meaningful restructuring within County government to make it all work. The County Executive has put this Council in an impossible position, and I appreciate the way this expanded body approached its work in very challenging circumstances.

Despite the false choice presented before the Council, the property tax increase was not required to fund schools at the historic level we approved today or to fund teacher pay raises – both of which I support.

With rising assessments, cost pressures on residents and families, and looming economic uncertainty, I have deep concerns with this property tax increase. We had other choices. We could have prioritized the people providing public services and educating our kids without adding new positions or programs. We could live within our means as other jurisdictions around us have. They found ways to fund public education and public employees without raising taxes and I know we could have, too. I respectfully voted against the nearly five percent property tax increase because I believe we had other options, admittedly difficult ones, that could have avoided it.

This budget supports the many key priorities that we all share. It supports teachers, public safety professionals, and public employees at a time when they are working harder than ever before. It funds public education at historic levels to meet unprecedented challenges in-and-out of the classroom. It safeguards critical services for some of our community’s most vulnerable residents.

While there are many aspects of this budget I sincerely appreciate and strongly support, there are many tough choices I wish we had made to avoid even more difficult decisions in the future. I am very concerned with the number of new positions we are adding at a time when we cannot come close to filling the vacancies we have. I am troubled by the volume of one-time revenues used to fund ongoing expenses and the implications for our fiscal sustainability over time – and the very near-term potential for draconian cuts to critical services or future tax increases. I am disheartened that the Council’s recommendations for PAYGO to fund capital projects and spending affordability guidelines were completely ignored in the County Executive’s recommended budget, as were many of our established fiscal policies – developed in the aftermath of the last recession and needed perhaps more than ever as we risk heading towards another economic downturn.

I have been deeply disappointed by how people and priorities were pitted against one another in an unprecedented fashion during budget deliberations. Until we change that level of public discourse, it will be difficult to have the type of constructive, collaborative conversations that are necessary to make nuanced budget decisions in a sustainable and responsible way.

My concerns and reservations have been clear throughout this process, and they remain as we finish it. This budget funds many critical priorities, but it does not make the type of tough choices needed to avoid tougher and harsher decisions next year and beyond. It is not the budget I would have proposed, and it is not without glaring deficiencies.

But this is a body of 11, not a body of one, and I respect and appreciate the will of my colleagues. We need a budget to fund the government – even if it is not the budget with which I would be most comfortable. Unlike some on Capitol Hill, I do not believe we should hold the government hostage due to policy disagreements, even significant ones.

So soberly and cautiously, based on my respect for the will of the body, I voted to approve this budget, recognizing that it will now create even tougher decisions moving forward.

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Release ID: 23-183
Media Contact: Cindy Gibson 240-620-8571
Categories: Andrew Friedson