September 20, 2017
Politics & Opinion
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Does Anne Arundel County Budget Backwards?

Councilman Michael Peroutka
Councilman Michael Peroutka's picture
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May 31, 2017

May is budget month for the government of Anne Arundel County. The operating budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY2018) is expected to be just over $1.5 billion.

Raise your hand if you think this is a lot of money. Me too.

And in one way or another, it all comes from the taxpayers of the county by means of property tax, an income tax, a transfer tax (sale of real property), and various other taxes and fees. More than half of this is allocated to the school system, with the remainder spent on an incredibly wide range of stuff.

But as the council works through this budget, I get a funny feeling that something is not quite right, and a question starts to nag at me.

“Are we budgeting backwards?” Let me explain.

The formal budget process began on Monday, May 1, with a presentation by County Executive Steve Schuh, and will conclude in mid-June when the council will vote to adopt the budget. Meanwhile, we have been listening to presentations by various county departments that are defending their spending plans.

Now, you might have assumed that the county budget process begins with a determination of what activities are lawfully authorized by the county charter along with an analysis of what they will cost. And then, you might have assumed that these necessary and authorized activities would form the basis around which to organize personnel and material resources.

But this assumption would not be accurate. In fact, the annual budget process really begins with a report developed and submitted by a group known as the spending affordability committee.

Established under Section 610 of the county charter, this group of seven citizens, appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the council, makes advisory recommendations “relating to spending affordability, including county spending levels to reflect the ability of the taxpayer to finance county services and long-term debt.” Among other things, the committee examines the per capita wealth of its citizens and “the estimated growth in collective personal income of county residents” to determine their ability to pay. For FY2018, the committee’s estimate is that your personal income will increase by 3.5 percent, justifying an increase in county spending of 3.5 percent.

In other words, the starting point is not “what will it cost to carry out our lawful duties and obligations?” Instead, the county starts with the question “How much of the citizens’ hard earned money can we take?”

Does that seem appropriate to you? Me neither. You see, the budget of $1.5 billion is not based on what the county really needs; it’s based on how much they think you can really afford.

So, what happens if Anne Arundel taxpayers can afford more than the local government actually needs for its lawful, jurisdictional activities? Is the remainder returned to taxpayers or is it allocated and spent on some project that is not necessary or beyond civil government authority?

(Don't raise your hands. That was a rhetorical question.)

Comments

Posted 12/31/1969 07:00 PM

Bless you Councilman Peroutka, for asking questions on behalf of county taxpayers. At any budget meeting to review a given county department, it should be prefaced with the question: "The basic assumption is that this department does not support the interests of taxpayers. Please tell us why you think it does?" Repetitive, zero-based budgeting is the only honest, respectful way to manage county tax dollars....as well as state and federal revenues for that matter. Citizens should demand your level of questioning throughout our nation!

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