O Brother, Remember the Conservative Virtue of Prudence

As if the Cohen brothers were shooting a remake of “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” mad fools chanted racist slogans through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The orange glow from bamboo tiki torches imported from China accented their lunacy, as pomade sweat stains dripped down their Dapper Dan faces.

The thing is, we’re living in real life, with real consequences. As much as it may feel like we’re wrapping up our last scene on a low-budget movie set, this is anything but Showtime. The decisions that our elected leaders make here and now, will impact real lives today and in the future.

Every political leader must be keenly aware that their choices have an impact on other people. A leader can say and do things that inspire people, but they can also hurt them.  A leader's choices may even cause emotional, physical, or financial harm to others. That is a sobering reality, which should temper the actions of anyone holding political office. It is essential that our elected leaders understand the impact of their decisions and guard their word, lest they cause untold damage.

The great British statesman, Edmund Burke cautioned against extreme shifts and disruptive movements. He articulated a conservative virtue that encouraged prudence; the idea that a steady hand, measured choices, and moderation over time provided the greatest stability to any community. He said, “Prudence is not only the first in rank of the virtues political and moral, but she is the director, the regulator, the standard of them all.”

We can all get caught up in the emotions of the times; we live in a crazy social media world operating on internet time. But, sometimes it can be helpful to talk truth to ourselves instead of listening to our emotional mood swings. When using Twitter, it is most appropriate to be very prudent. Once you click send, the word is out for everyone to see and the damage may already be done. Think twice before you post! We should try to live by the maxim: if you don’t know the answer to something, the best thing to do is wait; pause a moment and take stock of your choices before acting upon your passions. It might take longer, but it is certainly more prudent.

Quoting John Rawls (A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press), Allen Guelzo, wrote a great essay for the Heritage Foundation that typified the character of prudence in the life of President Abraham Lincoln, he wrote:

Lincoln “regarded prudence in all respect as one of the cardinal virtues,” and he hoped, as President, that “it will appear that we have practiced prudence” in the management of public affairs. Even in the midst of the Civil War, he promised that the war would be carried forward “consistently with the prudence…which ought always to regulate the public service” and without allowing it to degenerate “into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle.”

My campaign is a local story, focused on hometown issues. While we fight hard to win and openly counter the failed policies of our opponent, I encourage everyone on my team to walk upright before God and man. We must think and act prudently; apply caution, thoughtfulness, and work hard to be intentionally focused and committed to not letting emotions drive decision-making. We might make mistakes, we are only human, but this is not a gameshow and we’re not playing politics. This is real life, and we will not sell our souls to the devil for any price.

The County Council must get Serious about Economic Development

Whether they be farmers or manufacturers, executives or teachers, Montgomery County voters understand that ideology does not make for good policy. But the County Council just doesn’t get it.

When County Executive Leggett outsourced business development to the public-private Montgomery County Department of Economic Development (MCEDC), business owners celebrated. The MCEDC promised growth. The corporation’s tested model inspired trust, and its private structure promoted innovation. Many of us continue to hope that businesses fleeing Montgomery County will return. Perhaps companies will once again want to do business in our community.

But the MCEDC has to survive the County Council first. Because, for Montgomery County business, weathering ideological policies and anti-business attacks is the norm.

MCEDC found an office, but was forced to share it with two other groups. It received funding, but not as much as its regional counterparts. The MCEDC’s $4.8 million budget sounds generous. But it is barely half of the Fairfax County equivalent, which receives $7.5 million and the Prince George's County parallel, which receives $9 million.

While Prince George’s County’s economic issues may require a more robust investment, the investment by Fairfax certainly seems to have borne returns, as Fairfax added 7,000 more jobs than Montgomery County in 2016.

But the MCEDC’s highest hurdle is not its budget; it is the County Council’s anti-business policies. The MCEDC aspires “to accelerate business growth and retention in Montgomery County.” The County Council’s political approach to economic development doesn’t grow businesses -- it stifles them. It doesn’t retain companies. It drives them to counties like Fairfax, Prince George’s, and even Loudoun.

Montgomery County families feel the Council’s poor leadership every day. With our economic strength returning to near recession levels, the County Council responded with a 9% property tax hike. They fought 1.1% economic growth with new regulations. Last week, they flirted with a $15 minimum wage. Now our educated, motivated workforce lacks jobs. And as our working families struggle to afford housing, our business people stretch their savings, lacking customers.

The MCEDC is one victim of a larger problem: the County Council doesn’t get that pre-fabricated policies plagiarized from West Coast municipalities aren’t solutions.

How long can the County’s leadership pay lip service to being “Open for Business” and continue to make doing business in Montgomery County a liability, yet expecting viable job growth? 

For years, the County Council has put ideology above basic needs. While families are struggling to make ends meet, the Council has wasted time on senseless ideological agendas. Every year, for the last ten years, the surrounding counties have seen jobs grow in their jurisdictions. Every year, more and more Montgomery County residents are forced to drive to the District, Fairfax, or Loudon Counties to chase fleeing jobs. The County Council’s agenda can’t eclipse families, jobs, and businesses any longer. In 2018, elect a councilman who will put you first. Elect change for District 2.  

It might sound crazy to some, but not to me. We really can win this...

The following article, with minor edits appeared as a four part series of posts on Seventh State between July 25-28, 2017.

PART 1: HOW I PLAN TO WIN: MEASURABLE SOLUTIONS TO REAL PROBLEMS

In order to #BringJobsHome to Montgomery County, we must actively recruit anchor companies and top-tier mid-size businesses that will help expand economic development in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) while also fostering family-owned small business entrepreneurship and innovation.

Grow Local Jobs

My five point Jobs Plan to #BringJobsHome to Montgomery County is one of the most significant ways to increase opportunity and decrease poverty. Both public and private stakeholders in the County must come together to reach agreement and take action to make the economy grow and create local income opportunities for more people.

We must make it easier for businesses to operate in the County. Otherwise they will continue to choose other locations to operate.  Advancing our competitiveness in the region is essential to giving people opportunities to increase their wages and strengthen their chances for meaningful and stable employment. Furthermore, growing jobs locally provides a better quality of life, increased lifestyle choices, better neighborhood engagement, healthier nutrition, fitness, and family -time and an overall culture that promotes local families and communities.

The number one uncertainty in business is time. While businesses can plan for cost, taxes, and fees, they struggle to plan for the time it will take to start and complete a project. We must reduce the time it takes to process permits, gain approval, and achieve a fair return on investment. These changes will strengthen business assurance and draw new smart growth jobs to our community.

Roll Back Tax Increases on Families

My five point Tax Plan for rolling back tax increases will provide incentives to businesses that expand in Montgomery County and additional credits to residential homeowners, the elderly, and veterans. Families are feeling the pain as budgets have shrunk and flexible spending has diminished. It’s as if people are renting their homes from the government.

In order to return homeownership to its long-term investment value, I will submit a bill to establish a supplemental property tax credit for homeowners whose household income as compared to their tax bill puts an undue burden on their quality of life.  My plan will double the maximum property assessment amount used for computing property taxes and change the income formula to allow for eligibility at a higher income level.

As part of my #BringJobsHome Plan, I will introduce a ten-year sliding tax credit available to businesses that increase their square footage and the number of full-time employees. As businesses grow, the credit will increase to incentivize local growth. An additional “hometown” credit will be added for businesses that have been in Montgomery County for over ten years.

Reduce Traffic Congestion

My five point Transportation Plan calls for the County to adopt a culture of smart planning, innovation, rapid implementation and efficient execution that focuses on capacity management. Flexible, community-sensitive design should replace by-the-book engineering that inhibits rapid improvements. I will solve problems with innovation focused on results rather than time-consuming studies. Rapidly implemented on-the-ground fixes will be adjusted in light of experience, and we should move on quickly if they don’t work. Our primary concern should be to alleviate traffic congestion as both an economic and quality of life benefit.

We must integrate technology companies, land developers, regional partners and citizens to lead Maryland in innovative traffic management. We must prepare for the introduction of autonomous vehicles, traffic flow timing, sensor-based traffic lights, and adjustable self-governing speed limits for both mass-transit and individual car drivers to ensure community safety concerns are addressed and implementation is efficient, cost-effective, and first and foremost, reduces traffic congestion.

An investment in infrastructure is an investment in jobs. Therefore, I support research into building a second crossing over the Potomac and following through with constructing Mid-County Highway Extended (M-83).  Transportation improvements must translate to new business imperatives. Smart growth requires an economic and rural balance that maximizes the social-cultural diversity of our community and benefits every citizen equally.

Fund a Robust Education Pipeline

My five point Education Plan focuses on preparing students for jobs in our community. A sustainable education pipeline begins with a well-funded school system. We must support strong, family-first early childhood education that prepares young children for success throughout their academic years. It continues with the highest-quality elementary, middle and high school education, all focused on preparing students for success in college and beyond.

We must think locally and act globally; the nations of the world are here. Montgomery County is a transient community. Many people move here for government jobs and eventually return to their homes. This varied culture has always ensured that we are a diverse, adaptable, creative and welcoming community. We must develop an education pipeline that maximizes our geographic uniqueness, sees diversity as an opportunity for creativity and allows students to grow as citizens of the world.

If we want the best schools, we must be willing to pay for the best talent, resources, and time. Across nearly all measures, our community ranks in the top ten in terms of education but we are rarely number one. We must leap to the front of the room and capture the flag of success by recruiting the best and brightest teachers in the world. Teaching is a calling not just a paycheck; our community understands that and is willing to support our teachers as they dream big and achieve greatness.

PART 2: HAS THE GREAT RECESSION RETURNED TO MONTGOMERY COUNTY

For a decade or so, I’ve grown increasingly concerned for our community. Every morning, thousands of people crawl down I-270 for jobs in Virginia and D.C., jobs that were once in Montgomery County. Those jobs aren’t here anymore. They’ve migrated mostly to Northern Virginia.  A commute that should take only 30 minutes now can take upwards of two hours.

Indeed, every jurisdiction surrounding Montgomery County, with the exception of Prince Georges County, has added jobs over the last ten years. Montgomery County, according to the County’s own Planning Department’s analysis of 2016 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, has lost almost 3,000 jobs.

While 3,000 jobs lost may not seem like a lot over ten years, compare that figure to the average number of jobs gained by the five surrounding jurisdictions over the same ten years. That number is 34,274; an average gain of 34,000 jobs including Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Howard counties and the District of Colombia.

Since August 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported a rapid decline in employment and wages in Montgomery County. According to the data, Montgomery County lost more jobs from August 2013 to 2016 (an estimated 1,250 jobs) than it did during the Sub-Prime Mortgage Collapse leading to the Great Recession (an estimated 1,000).

Not only has Montgomery County lost jobs, clearly our current elected officials haven’t done much to attract new jobs either. Perhaps it has something to do with the anti-business ideology enacted by the County Council over the last decade?

The County showed just 1.1 percent job growth from 2015 to 2016 — the lowest of all area counties.

And how does the County Council respond? What do they do when thousands of jobs are lost across the County? They raise property taxes a dramatic nine percent last year, followed by another three percent increase this year.

As if that’s not enough, they increased the Recordation Tax; that’s a tax on buying and selling your home. And now they’re trying to do it again this year. Who does that?  The last thing you do when people are struggling is to take more money from them.

I will return homeownership to its rightful place as a family investment asset. I will work to reduce traffic congestion in order to return precious hours in the day to local families and I will fight to #BringJobsHome so that we can boost economic development and establish a work-where-you-live culture in our community. 

PART 3: HAS THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCIL BACKED OUR COMMUNITY INTO A CORNER?

The County Council has raised taxes, overspent the budget and failed to grow new jobs locally. Montgomery County lost jobs while everyone around us was gaining them.

The pace and scale of property-tax increases over the last decade in Montgomery County are overwhelming. Since 1990, residential property taxes here have grown more than twice as fast as the state’s median household income. Residential property taxes now eat up an average of 6.4 percent of a typical household income in Montgomery County. In 1990, that share was 3.6 percent.  In this growing bite of household income lies the pain currently felt by homeowners, whose family budgets have been thrown into disarray.

Montgomery County taxpayers are paying more for schools which are below historic standards, roads which are more congested, and services which are stretched to the point of breaking. What are we paying for?

More often than not, when citizens talk about cutting taxes, some Councilmembers argue, “but how are we going to pay for services…” This is a narrow-minded answer to a reasonable question. We don’t have to cut services in order to roll back the recent tax increases.  In most municipalities, taxable revenue is based on a 60/40 split. Communities often receive 60 percent of their budgetary revenue from residential property taxes and 40 percent from commercial or business-based taxes.

However, in Montgomery County, that taxable revenue is based on an 80/20 split. That is, a whopping 80 percent of our taxable revenue comes from residential properties and only 20 percent from commercial properties.

In the past three years, Germantown has lost over 1,200 jobs, while a disproportionately high number of women in Montgomery Village have lost jobs in the same time frame. Property tax increases, an anti-business climate, excessive regulations and gridlock have harmed families.

Our families are bearing the burden of Montgomery County government’s entire budget on their backs. Property taxes have become a second mortgage that homeowners can never pay off – and an endless expense that grows more costly each year. When I was growing up, the family home was a retirement asset; now it’s a county tax asset. My strategy focuses on building our commercial tax base by growing businesses so that we can reduce the weight of residential property taxes.

PART 4: HAS MONTGOMERY COUNTY LOST ITS ECONOMIC STRENGTH

When I was growing up, Montgomery County was one of the wealthiest counties in the whole country.  Many of us remember when Montgomery County’s transportation infrastructure was second to none. Our schools were always ranked number one. We were the envy of the nation. Today, we’re thrilled when we’re in the top ten on any list.

Even Councilmember Craig Rice admitted that the Council no longer holds the County in such high regard.

In March of 2015, it was reported that while stumping in Germantown for more funds for the education budget, Rice told an audience, “We did not want to acknowledge, for a very long time, the fact that we had poor people coming into Montgomery County and that Montgomery County was changing.”

As was reported by the Germantown Pulse on March 19, 2015: [Rice] contends that County leaders waited a long time before we changed the perception of Montgomery County as a being full of millionaires who could afford whatever they wanted. “That was never a reality. We just never acknowledged it.”

It’s as if the County Council doesn’t understand how government works. Montgomery County lags the region in recovering pre-recession job levels. Despite six consecutive years of positive job growth across the region, Montgomery County had 0.6 percent (2,964) fewer jobs in March 2016 compared to the same month in 2006, indicating that job losses sustained during the Great Recession have not been fully recovered. In contrast, the wider Washington, DC metro area added 191,718 new jobs over the decade. Three jurisdictions together accounted for 70 percent of the region’s job expansion: The District of Columbia (82,397), Loudoun County (32,081) and Fairfax County (19,550).

While average may be good enough for some Councilmembers, for me, it’s not a passing grade. We must take active measures to boost our competitive advantage in the region.

If elected to the County Council, I will work to develop the mechanisms to make it easier for businesses to operate in the County (i.e. lower taxes, easier permitting and licensing, less traffic congestion, and a favorable education pipeline). While growing jobs locally contributes to providing a better quality of life, it also creates an entrepreneurial culture that promotes economic development for everyone.

CONCLUSION

My plan for Montgomery County is challenging; some might even call it a “bridge too far.” Others will even say that it is too hard. I would respond that our elected officials are hired to do hard things. We expect them to forecast a measurable and emboldened vision and then carry it out. But that’s not what we currently have in District 2. I want to represent my community in measurable ways. Our future requires bold leadership that is willing to look beyond the election cycles and find ways to work across political, geographic, policy and budgetary constraints. I am that leader with a measurable plan for the future of our community.

Artificial Minimum Wage: The County Council's Race to the Bottom

On Tuesday, July 25th the Montgomery County Council will consider further increases to the minimum wage (Bill 28-17). This bill is labeled as a Human Rights and Civil Liberties issue, but it is anything but that. 

They had to label it something because it surely doesn’t come under the heading of economics, or economic development, or job creation, or future economic growth. That is something that one would expect from a County Council which has overseen just a 1.1% increase in job creation from 2015 to 2016, the lowest among neighboring counties.

The Bill is sponsored by Takoma Park elite and 2018 County Executive hopeful Mark Elrich, and co-sponsored by the rest of the Takoma Park/Silver Spring ideologues; At-Large Councilmembers George Leventhal and Hans Reimer, District 4 (Wheaton-Olney) Council representative Nancy Navarro, and District 5 (Takoma Park-Silver Spring) representative Tom Hucker.

In 2013, the Council enacted Bill 27-13,1 which established a County minimum wage for private sector employees working in the County, unless the State or federal minimum wage is higher. The County minimum wage established under Bill 27-13, as amended, was phased in over several years. The rate was set at $8.40 per hour effective October 1, 2014, and increased to $9.55 per hour on October 1, 2015, $10.75 on July 1, 2016, and $11.50 per hour on July 1, of this year. There are no requirements in County law for further increases in the County minimum wage.

The County minimum wage law has been amended twice since being established by Bill 27-13 in 2013. One year later, Bill 59-14 modified some of the effective dates for increases, and once again the following year, Bill 24-15 modified the method for calculating the ''tip credit" allowed to employers of tipped employees.

As reported by USATodayA report from the University of Washington (UW), found that when wages in Seattle Washington “increased to $13 in 2016, some companies may have responded by cutting low-wage workers' hours. The study, which was funded in part by the city of Seattle, found that workers clocked 9% fewer hours on average, and earned $125 less each month after the most recent increase.” 

The USAToday further explains that In 2014, Seattle City Council voted to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The minimum wage increased from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015, and to $13 in 2016, according to the report. Under the law, businesses must raise the minimum wage to $15 for all workers by 2021.“

According to the Washington Post, “On the whole, the study estimates, the average low-wage worker in the city lost $125 a month because of the hike in the minimum.”

Additionally, a Harvard University study completed in April reports that “higher minimum wages increase overall exit rates for restaurants. However, lower quality restaurants, which are already closer to the margin of exit, are disproportionately impacted by increases to the minimum wage.” The Harvard study shows that “a one dollar increase in the minimum wage leads to a 14 percent increase in the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star restaurant (which is the median rating), but has no discernible impact for a 5-star restaurant (on a 1 to 5-star scale).”

Further addressing the Harvard study, Washington Policy Center makes it definitively clear that a government imposed minimum wage increase in the San Francisco Bay Area led to the failure of local area restaurants.

“Since restaurants are one of the largest employers of minimum wage workers, one would logically expect the impacts of an artificially high minimum wage to be evident in that industry before others.  In a national survey of restaurant owners, 24% said rising minimum wages are their biggest challenge for 2017.”

The Washington Policy Institute said, “The data from the Harvard study bears this out—higher minimum wages have increased overall failure rates for Bay Area restaurants. The study found that a $1 increase in the minimum wage increases the overall likelihood of a restaurant going out of business by 4% to 10%.”  

Beyond restaurants, many small- to mid-sized businesses also require office space, of which, Montgomery County has plenty to offer.

A June 2015 report prepared by Partners for Economic Solutions (PES) for the Montgomery County Planning Department on vacant office space in the County, stated that Montgomery County had nearly 11 million square-feet of vacant office space, accounting for 15% of regional vacancies. “In Montgomery County, 12 office buildings totaling 2.1 million square-feet of space are completely vacant. Eight more buildings totaling 1.2 million square-feet will become vacant in later this year,” said the report. That is 3.3 million square-feet of vacant office space.

 “The county’s extensive Federal presence, long a source of economic strength and stability, is now disrupting the local office market as entire office buildings are vacated,” stated the report, which went on to explain how the General Services Administration (GSA) launched the Freeze the Footprint initiative in 2013 to reduce the amount of private space leased and to move more Federal employees into government-owned space. “All told, GSA actions could reduce Montgomery County’s private office space occupancy by roughly 1.1 million square feet over the next five years,” said the 2015 report.

According to this two-year old report, there was 3.3 million square-feet of vacant office space in 2015. One might wonder if the Council was actually trying to attract new small-businesses to the County to fill this vacant office space. It is also worth noting that as a result of the vacancies, the cost to rent in many of these buildings has fallen dramatically. And yet, they remain empty. Remember, only a 1.1 percent increase in total jobs from 2015-2016.

One bright spot for some of the County’s small- to mid-sized businesses is that by 2023 — which (if passed) is when the Bill 28-17’s $15 minimum wage would go into effect — another 2.73 million square-feet of office space is due to come off lease, according to the PES report. It gives all those companies occupying that space a chance to leave the County prior to this misguided wage bill goes into effect, thus avoiding the legal expense of breaking a lease agreement.

But Elrich and the ideologues on the County Council continue to push for a higher minimum wage. 

Even after the County Executive told them this was a bad idea. “Montgomery County’s minimum wage is, and will continue to be, higher than both the federal and State minimum wage, as well as that in all surrounding jurisdictions except the District of Columbia,” County Executive Ike Leggett said in vetoing a minimum wage increase in January. “I remain concerned, however, about the competitive disadvantage Bill 12-16 would put the County in compared to our neighboring jurisdictions.”

Despite the studies showing that artificially higher minimum wages actually hurt low wage-earners, the County’s lagging job creating numbers, and sky rocketing office space vacancies, this County Council continues to waste time pursuing pie-in-the-sky economic policies because it fits their ideological agenda. While the hardworking residents of the Montgomery County continue to foot the bill for their wrong-headed economic policies.