Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dean Browning Proposes Lower Taxes in Lehigh County

Have you ever noticed that Republicans have all the financial experts? It's a little scary, when you start thinking about it. Look at walking calculator Alan Greenspan. Does anyone understand anything he's said over the past ten years?

But there's a reason for this. Republicans are butt ugly. If you look at my profile picture, you'll see that we Democrats are stunningly handsome. It's a curse. So God took pity on Republicans and made them math whizzes.

Dean Browning, chief financial officer with a local private air charter company, is one of these bean counters. He's doing rather well for himself. But for reasons that elude me, he's developed a keen interest in Lehigh County government. He attends all board meetings and is running for commissioner.

He has spent the past few weeks poring over LC Exec Don Cunningham's proposed budget. This includes attending four separate budget hearings as a member of the public. I like Cunningham's budget. He proposes a new 911 center, work release enhancements, a regional approach to public safety, and an affordable housing plan for working class families.

But Browning has some suggestions that might improve on a good budget. He proposes a tax cut instead of collecting a huge surplus. And in his telephone conversation with me, he warns that growing county pensions are a "hidden danger."

Today he publicly announced a three point plan in a press conference. Below is his press release, describing his suggestions in a little more detail.

Allentown, September 19, 2007—County Commissioner candidate Dean Browning kicked off his review of the 2008 budget for Lehigh County today with a press conference at the Sheraton High Points. At the event he unveiled a 3-Point Plan for the Board of Commissioners to focus on Lehigh County’s future. The plan called for reducing property taxes, slowing the growth in county spending and refocusing government on its core activities.

"Lehigh County is a great place to live and work. I know; I’ve been here for almost thirty years. I’m running for County Commissioner to make sure it stays that way in the future," stated Browning, who said that the growth in county spending — up 42% in the last six years — must be slowed. "We can do better and to do that we have to focus on the future beyond just the next election cycle."

Browning’s Plan for Lehigh County’s Future

1. Return $20 Million in Surplus Funds to Taxpayers.

"Government should not be in the business of collecting more money from taxpayers than it needs to operate," said Browning. "I would return the surplus by reducing property taxes from 10.25 mills to 9.50 mills - It’s the taxpayer’s money – not the county’s. I would sustain that reduction by limiting the growth in future spending to the rate of inflation."

2. Reduce the Growth in County Spending to that of the Rate of Inflation.

"We want to make sure county employees are treated fairly," said Browning. "However, their compensation package - salary, benefits and pension - should be more in line with that of most private sector employees. To control costs in the future, we must start now to reform the county’s approach to compensation that is both outdated and unsustainable. As part of this process, I call for the repeal of the 2008 pay increase for the Board of Commissioners that was voted on by the current commissioners. If they are unwilling to do that then I pledge to not accept the increase and ask each candidate running for County Commissioner this year to join me in that pledge."

3. Refocus the County’s Priorities on its Core Activities.

"The focus of county government should be on basic taxpayer assigned functions such as bridge repair, criminal justice and land preservation. Spending $51 million on a baseball stadium while begrudging the money needed to fix structurally deficient bridges is a glaring example of the misplaced priorities," said Browning. "I call on the Board of Commissioners to refocus on the county’s core activities. Before acting to raise taxes on local businesses and to use the county’s borrowing capacity to do something like building a new ballpark for wealthy team owners; they need to make sure the County’s basic activities have been addressed - for example ensuring that our bridges are open and safe."

Browning, the Executive Vice-President and CFO of New World Aviation, Inc., said the Board of Commissioners sorely needs the capabilities and perspective of someone with private sector business experience to put county government on firm financial footing for the future.
I think his tax reduction suggestion is worth exploring, and he's right about pensions. But I'd rather be handsome.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

BO, totally OT but just wondered if you were aware of the big $$$raiser planned for Sam B. by some local lawyers and featuring good ollle-C.B.Knoll.
Sorry, just curious, so to atone for straying from topic, let me say it all sounds good but it is typical Repub. private 'real world'enterprise business thinking that these guys think will overlay perfectly on Govt. Just aint so. Some of his points are well stated but core functions-Land Preservation??? Counties have taken up that cause and its a good one but he failed to mention one of the most basic core functions-Human Services. That is a tough nut to crack and involves some tough choices no one wants to make. Commissioners not taking raises is a nice gesture (Northampton Co. Council stoped the practice in the early 90's) but it is just a gesture. With increasing demands and mandates and tighter money supplies, thats what needs to be addressed. It is one of the most difficult parts of County Government.

Bernie O'Hare said...

1) Sammy - Thanks for the tip. I've heard and intend to mention it.

2) Land Preservation is not historically a core county function. But nearly every county has adopted open space proposals to combat rampant overdevelopment. Now that the housing market has slowed, we really need to address our zoning laws. These open space measures sound warm and furry, but are a drop in the bucket. But for land use reform, we need to look to Harrisburg.

3) In a phone conversation with Browning, he acknowledged that a paycut was simply a gesture. he said he wanted to set an example. When he talks about looking at employee compensation, he agrees that a salary study should be done, but his main concern is the "hidden danger" of pensions. When the stock market goes into the tank, and it will, the county is going to have to fund those pensions with tax dollars, and that will hurt.

4) What I liked about Browning's proposal is that he's not just slamming Cunningham, but is taking a good budget and trying to find ways to improve it. I was impressed by his approach. And as I told Dean, I've never seen a candidate for county office start his campaign by looking closely at a budget. If this is what Browning intends to do as a commissioner, he will be an asset to Cunningham and the LV.

But we Dems are still more handsome.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I neglected your point about human services. That is probably the highlight of Cunningham's budget. he managed, with the help of an able staff, to have LC reclassified as an "urban county." This opened the floodgates to more money at a time when it is shrinking elsewhere.

Browning is not so impressed at this as me. He said, "It's still public money." That's true. It does come from state and federal taxes. But why not let some of that money come here instead of somewhere else?

I liked Browning's analysis. It's not the usual BS press release. He's looking at ways to save money. He agrees that LC should have two or three months worth od salaries and expenses as a cash reserve. But he wants the excess to go back to the taxpayer.

It's important to keep a good cash reserve, but holding a large surplus is trouble.

Demothug said...

rite Dean. The County is all finished - we don't ever need any money that exceeds the rate of inflation.

You Rs flip me out. Return the surplus to the taxpayers - we don't need to keep anything in reserve.

If and when my county taxes reach the level of my school taxes, maybe we can talk - until then, what you are prescribing for the county is going to hurt - rather than help.

Anonymous said...

Also slightly OT, but I don't get his objection to the baseball stadium. He's a math whiz, right? So as long as it's going to bring in $51 million plus of tax revenue (adjusting for inflation - $51 million plus in dollars the year it was passed) he shouldn't have an objection.

I would be shocked if it didn't - tickets are selling very fast. In the end, it is going to be an economic boon, and it's going to add up to a net positive for county revenues.

Which shouldn't surprise anyone - nobody in the Lehigh Valley gets economic development like Don Cunningham.

Anonymous said...

Democrats' Pavlovian response to any mention of a surplus is predictable. They'll not use the money wisely because they can't help but operate under the Santa Claus principle of goodies for votes. Dean Browning makes too much sense to get any traction in the ever-increasingly blue LV.

Browning should follow the example of fiscal watchdog John Stoffa. Simply float another back-breaking bond to finance short term fiscal requirements with our kids' and grandkids' money. Those little bastards have it too easy anyway.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Stadium construction is still underway, and the Ironpigs are already a success. I admit I've already driven to the stadium twice, just to look at it. I've already got the Ironpigs hat, which is pretty neat.

But it's successful because it is being marketed by people who know what they're doing.

I will ask Browning about the stadium when I interview him for this blog. Good question.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand his objection to the stadium either. Could it be that he's philosophically opposed to government being in the professional sports business and providing incentives to underwrite wealthy team owners? Just a thought.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:40,

I philosophically oppose the public funding of private enterprise, i.e., corporate welfare. I can see some money to help revitalize and urban or old borough core, but would want a clawback and a guarantee that tax ratables would increase.

My objection extends to helping build stadiums for already wealthy owners.

It very nearly happened in NC, and that would have been a disaster. In this case, it really does seem that the stadium and team is being effectively marketed and I'm relatively certain this is going to be a huge success.

It might be a success financially, as another anon noted. But I think the success transcends that. It creates interest in a healthy activity and interest in our community. It brings us together. I hope it succeeds.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that philosophical objection is interesting, but the county economy needs energizing. Unfortunately, the state of play in America is that if this county hadn't been willing to chip in to build the stadium, someone else would have.

Besides, philosophical objections are for philosophers. Bean-counting is for math whizzes. Long term, this is going to create more beans.

Besides... it's a great damn hat. Which one did you get, Bernie?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:54, I suspect you may be right. Now, the important question about the hat. it's blue and off white, and has a nasty looking pig that looks like it has rivets drilled into its head. Very intimidating. I wore it outside a few times and several people fainted. I think I'll wear it to work today, but I've got to be careful. That bastard Angle is coming to a county council meeting tonight, and he might steal it.

Anonymous said...

Angle wearing an Iron Pigs hat would be the first good thing I've heard about the guy.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge baseball fan and am excited about the 'Pigs. But I'd prefer to show my support for the team one ticket, one beer, one hotdog at a time. It offends me when government confiscates from me to support rich guys' indulgences.

I concede the point about "the state of play" in attracting these enterprises for overall community benefit. And that offends me as well. Most minor league baseball makes money. And if a Triple A affiliate of a MLB franchise can't make boatloads of it in PA's third largest metro center, they need to take a business class or two.

Go 'Pigs! But when you're soon rolling in it, be good citizens, take a hard look at the sty around you, and consider returning that which you slopped from the public trough.

Tom Foolery said...

Sounds like the Bush plan..Give everything back to the taxpayers.. Send them checks now! Then in two years we'll be millions in debt.
Actually since the county can't be in debt like Bushy boy they'll just need to raise taxes again..This guy is clueless!!

Anonymous said...

What is his plan to deal with pensions? The County's pension is set up pursuant to the state's county pension law. The Commissioners have nothing to do with it.

Would you ask him when you interview him?

Thanks.

MAD AS BATS said...

There is something in the thought of a picture of Ron Angle wearing a hat with "IronPigs" on it. It is almost Karmic.
So the Hokendaqua Bridge is falling down, and Browning wants a Tax cut? Typical Republican, ignore real infrastructure needs to buy votes. We know there are 5 dangerously structurally deficient bridges in Lehigh County. And Deam wants to ignore that. When I vote in November, I will ignore him.

Anonymous said...

If you look at the Iron Pig logo and squint it sort of looks like Ron Angle. Don't snap BO, not an attack just an astute observation. Admit it, it does doesn't it?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:30,

The pig is much cuter than Ron.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 4:38,

Your question is a good one and I'll ask Dean when I meet him next week.

If you or anyone have other questions, post them here and I'll make sure I get answers.

J. Spike said...

Bernie,

You look like a card carrying member of Club for Groth or the Heritage Foundation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Spike,

There's not really much difference between Dems and Rs. I've seen some real Democratic scoundrels, like your boy Fleck and Lamont McClure. And I've met some decent Rs, like Charlie Dent or Mike Dowd.

Although I tend to favor Dems, I'll support an R if I like what he has to say or he has some asset that I think is useful in government.

Cunningham and Browning have something in common - fiscal conservatism. Browning has obviously done his homework on that budget, and has actually reached out to a liberal blogger. And amazingly, both Cunningham and Browning have reached out to the blogosphere.

Cunningham has endured a Chris Casey interview, and Browning has agreed to let me interview sometime in the next week or so. I can guarantee you that I'll have plenty of my own questions. But I want to be able to ask questions from others, too.

Spike, it's time we start listening to each other. That;s the whole point of this blog. No one person has an inside track on the right answers to the problems we face.

Anonymous said...

Huh?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 11:23,

I try.