Friday, October 22, 2010

Will Browning Support Cunningham's Budget?

At last night's Northampton County Council meeting, there were several tea party members sitting in the peanut gallery. This is their second appearance in a row, but at Lehigh County Commissioners, they've been attending meetings for several months.

I think that's a good thing.

At most local government meetings, if there is any audience at all, it usually consists of people looking for something. Unions, non-profits and other special interests are very good at twisting arms and squeezing every nickel they can grab from politicians looking for campaign contributions.

The LV Tea Party, often derided as a bunch of right-wing kooks, changes that dynamic. These folks are largely conservative or libertarian, and like any group, they do attract a few nuts. But in my own dealings with them, I have found them to be basically decent people who are concerned about the direction of this country.

The best way to make a difference is not by writing letters to President Obama or calling Rush Limbaugh, but by participating in local government. Stan Bialecki is a local tea party member who has become a Lehigh County regular. He recently wrote an essay, predicting that Commissioners will take the easy way out, voting against Executive Don Cunningham's budget, which will then become law because they'll reject their amended budget as well. It's a political trick enabling politicians to claim they voted against raising taxes. The Morning Call's Bill White, in a column called "Don't be Surprised if They Duck," reaches pretty much the same conclusion.

Below is Stan's essay, followed by a reply from Dean Browning, who chairs the Commissioners.

There's only one problem with Stan's essay. Dean's not ducking.

Stan's Essay

LEHIGH COUNTY 16% TAX INCREASE 10/18/2010

Hi All;

This will be the subject line, for my next post. That will be the result of the Commissioners Meeting on October 27th at 7 pm at 17 West 7th Street in Allentown.

You ask how I know?

In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, those "sissy boys" at Lehigh County are lacking the backbone (I'm being nice their all male except Gloria Hamm) to vote for the amended budget.

They would like to campaign saying "I NEVER VOTED FOR A TAX INCREASE". What BULL !!! Do they think we're stupid?? I guess they do. Perhaps they think we will sit on our "A-S" and not attend the meeting, to let them know how we feel. Are they right ??

This is how I expect the vote to go. Hope I'm wrong.

All the democrat's will vote NO.

They have plans to spend the 1.7 mill on other thing, i.e. County Health Department, Regional Crime Center etc. and who knows what else.

Dean Browning (deanbrowning@lehighcounty.org) will vote NO because he is up for re-election next year and wants to say he didn't vote for a TAX increase but, we know better.

Andy Roman (andyroman@lehighcounty.org) will vote NO for the same reason as Dean.

Thomas Creighton (tomcreighton@lehighcounty.org) 856-xxx-xxxx [redacted] will vote NO. This one bothers me, I had thought that he had more courage then this. I guess I'm wrong.

Percy Dougherty (percydougherty@lehighcounty.org) 610-xxx-xxxx Will vote NO just like he did last time. If you remember the young man that caused a disturbance at the forum we had, with the County Commissioners last year. This is why he was so upset with Percy.

The last meeting was for show, they really had no intention of voting for this amended budget.

We only have one Commissioner that has any "courage" and that will be Glenn Eckhart. He will Vote to approve the amended budget.

I need your support on the 27th, if for nothing else, to show them that we are awake and will hold them accountable.

Some people think, I work hard for people I believe in. But I really work hard if you disappoint me.

We made a good showing at the last meeting, lets see if we can do it again.

Tom Muller and the administration, think we pay too little in TAXES now, and should pay more.

Thanks

Stan
spending not revenue is the problem

Dean's Reply:

Stan:

Let’s go through an analysis of the two different budget options and see if there might not be a legitimate difference of opinion on which one is the best option. I think that would be more productive rather than stating that those who would vote against the amended budget are lacking in “courage”. As your group passed a Limited Government Resolution that you want all elected officials to follow, I think that is the appropriate guideline to use for this exercise. As I stated in a previous email, there are two provisions of the Resolution that need to be considered when evaluating the original and the amended budget. They are:

No increase in taxes, and
No “operating deficits”

At this point, the only two options are the original budget and the amended budget, both of which are at varying odds with the two provisions above. So from my standpoint the decision comes down to which option is the best long term fiscal option for the County. To reach a decision on that, let’s look at some of the numbers for each budget option as follows:

Original Budget

Tax increase of 16.1% to 11.9 mils which would generate $106.0 million in revenue for 2011.

Operating deficit of $4.1 million ($110.1 million in expenses less $106.0 million in revenue)

Amended Budget

Tax increase of 12.8% to 11.56 mils which would generate $103.0 million in revenue for 2011.
Operating deficit of $5.8 million ($110.1 million in expenses less $1.3 million in cost reductions* less $103.0 million in revenue)

* Reductions from deferred capital projects ($972,000) and the elimination of the General Services Mgr. ($88,123), 2 Deputies ($107,561) and the Main Street Initiatives ($154,446).

One might look at the numbers above and conclude (as you apparently have done) that it is more desirable to have a csmaller tax increase in 2011, regardless of the increase in the “operating deficit” and the effect that would have for 2012. That is an acceptable position to take. However, I think it is equally legitimate to look at the impact the budget decision we will make next week will have on the budget for 2012. To keep things simple and assume there is no change in spending or revenue for 2012, the original budget would lead us to a budget for 2012 with the same $4.1 million operating deficit. Clearly that would have to be filled to avoid another tax increase. Based on the options available to us this year, filling that gap would be a difficult, but not impossible task for the 2012 budget. However, if you make the same assumptions with the amended budget we would be facing an operating deficit of $7.7** million for 2012. Closing that gap would be much more difficult and would greatly complicate the ability to avoid another tax increase in 2012.

** $110.1 million less $.35 million (recurring reductions) plus $.972 million (capital projects that were deferred) less $103.0 million in revenue.

So, in my opinion, it comes down to whether there is a policy preference for a smaller tax increase in 2011 (12.8% instead of 16.1%) followed by an additional one in 2012 (of approximately 6% to 7%) vs. a policy preference for the original increase in 2011 followed by a stable rate for 2012.

Your choice is for the former and my choice is for the latter. And, by the way, whether someone chooses one or the other has nothing to do with “courage”.

Thanks,

Dean

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Smart, reasoned and logical response by Dean Browning. He has reviewed the information, analyzed the numbers and made an educated decision. I applaud his intellect and workmanship.

He does not say he is happy with the situation. He does not say he enjoys the idea of a tax increase. Without the histrionics of a Ron Angle or the neurotic Hamlet hand-wringing of a John Stoffa, Browning takes a mature and responsible approach to the County's responsibilities and the resultant budget.

Good job. By the way I am a lifetime Republican who voted for Dean Browning and will do so again.

Anonymous said...

Smart, reasoned, but flawed. Browning is assuming that with this increase there will be no increase in 2012.

If there's one thing everyone, including he, should have learned, it's to never trust politicians.

I'll believe there will be no 2012 tax increase in 2013 when there wasn't.

Anonymous said...

I mistook Browning for a politicians with some balls. Raising taxes is easy. Phony politicians who suck the public tit do it all the time.

Standing up for fiscal responsibility when 10% are unemployed and struggling to pay mortgages and taxes, is difficult.

Browning is officially as worthless as the bums who brought us to this point. He's just another irresponsible, lying spender.

Patrick McHenry said...

Bernie -

Browning's reasoning is flawed. He assumes the need for another tax increase next year and conveniently forgets next year is an election year.

I don't think Democrats want to cut spending, but I also doubt that they want to go into next year's election supporting another tax increase.

Dean should be holding the line as much as possible this year, and let next year fall where it may. Let's face it, that extra percentage of tax increase won't be getting repealed.

By the way, if Browning truly wanted no tax increase, he would have urged his fellow commissioners to send the budget back to the Executive with NO amendments and directing NO tax increase. That move is allowed under the County's Home Rule Charter.

Anonymous said...

When the so-called fiscally responsible, like Browning, go off the rails like every other tax and spender, it's apparent that we're screwed.

Anonymous said...

"When the so-called fiscally responsible, like Browning, go off the rails like every other tax and spender, it's apparent that we're screwed."

Yeah....that, or it's apparent that the people who are running the government are doing a good job of containing costs, as much as youwish they weren't.

Dean is a CFO and a good analyst of numbers, former Reupblican Party chair and an honest person with integrity. If he, someone who two years ago, any republican in the Lehigh Valley, would have been proud to stand behind, has analyzed the numbers and decided that Cunningham's budget is fiscally sound, then maybe you have to consider the possibility that it just might be true.

Dean Browning said...

"Patrick McHenry said - By the way, if Browning truly wanted no tax increase, he would have urged his fellow commissioners to send the budget back to the Executive with NO amendments and directing NO tax increase. That move is allowed under the County's Home Rule Charter."

Patrick:

That is true and the presumption with that approach is that the various elected officials (the County Executive, the Judges, the DA, the Sheriff, the Coroner and the Clerk of Judicial Records) who have worked over the summer to develop the budget for their various areas of responsibility did so without properly balancing the services they are required to deliver with the resultant cost. If you believe that was the case and/or feel that the only way to get to a no tax increase budget was for the Commissioners to dictate that, then the option you mention would have been the way to go. However, based on my analysis of the County’s budget, I don’t believe the end result would have been to anyone liking. A brief review of the numbers behind that statement is as follows:

• The budgeted spending (covered by County property taxes) is $110.1 million.
• To produce a no tax increase budget that amount would need to be reduced by $14.4 million or by 13%.
• However within the $110.1 million in spending are the following fixed and irreducible items:
- $15.6 million for debt service
- $5.9 million for the County’s portion of the required pension plan funding
- $2.8 million for the County’s portion of the health care casts for retirees.
• The total of these items is $24.3 million that is off limits so now the $14.4 million in needed reductions has to be found in the remaining $85.8 million in spending ($110.1 million less $24.3 million).
• Over 90% of that number (the $85.8 million) is for employee wages and benefits.
• To achieve the required reduction we would have to cut headcount and/or reduce wages on the order of 20% with the following impediments:
- Almost 50% of the County’s employees work in functions that are 24/7 where it is difficult to reduce headcount without effecting operations.
- Almost 25% of the County’s employees are in collective bargaining units that have the option of binding arbitration and no arbiter in the Commonwealth would agree to a reduction in wages.

Again, I've spent a fair amount of time going over the numbers and don't see anyway to produce a realistic, no tax increase budget. The 2011 budget detail for Lehigh County has been online since the end of August and the Board of Commissioners held a series of hearing during September to go through it department by department. If anyone has taken the time to go through the information, sees things differently and has a workable solution I'd certainly be interested in hearing it.

Thanks,

Dean

Anonymous said...

Dean, appreciate your comments, but I have to ask, why are you so certain there will be no tax increase next year if we go 16.1% this year?

Anonymous said...

Reads like Dean's given up fighting for cost reductions because they're just too hard to achieve. Time to find someone with new energy for these kinds of fights. Dean served well for a while. They all run out of gas eventually and go native. This is one of those times.

Anonymous said...

Dean will let the larger tax increase go into effect. When you couple this with the lie in his recent mailer stating that he “was successful in proposing and getting adopted a series of changes to freeze union wages at the current levels for one year”, he has been a big disappointment. He is likely to be challenged in the primary.

Anonymous said...

Still have not heard a viable and legal alternative to the Lehigh County budget from you folks. For all your whining, pissing and moaning you have yet to detail one single plan that can be implemented.

After a while you sound like any other two year old that can't have what they want.

Grow the Hell up!

Alan Earnshaw said...

"Idealism increases in direct proportion to ones distance from the problem."
– John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

As I have worked with our school district budgets, I have found it very difficult to make the kinds of cuts I routinely make in my household budget or in my spending decisions in the corporate world. There seems to be a never-ending list of requirements (from the federal and state legislatures) that simply cannot be eliminated, no matter how much we might wish to.

Instead of the constant calls to have "no tax increase," "stand up for fiscal responsibility," "[hold] the line," and "cut spending," I would really like to see some concrete, legal, workable suggestions on items to reduce or cut from the budget.

I applaud Mr. Browning for taking a thoughtful position and directly responding on this blog. I am glad he is one of our county commissioners, and I thank him for the efforts he has expended on the budget.

[Disclaimer: I know very little about county budget regulations and have no idea if they are as constrained as school districts.]

eckville press said...

Tom Creighton's "CONTRACT WITH COUNTY TAXPAYERS"

I will balance the county budget without increasing property taxes or raiding county reserves. Government must live within its means and only spend what it takes in.

Paid for by Lehigh County Victory PAC

eckville press said...

Tom Creighton cut taxes and reformed government as a Lynn Township Supervisor.

(Debatable)

He'll do the same as our next Lehigh County Commissioner.

Creighton is running on a platform of balancing the county budget without increasing property taxes or raiding county reserves.


Paid for by the Lehigh County Republican Committee.

eckville press said...

Tom Creighton doesn't just talk about cutting taxes....

HE'S DONE IT.

As a Lynn Township Supervisor, Creighton eliminated waste and cut property taxes by 23% for local homeowners. Now he's running for County Commissioner with A PLAN,
(that's right, A PLAN) to balance the county budget WITHOUT (that's right, WITHOUT) increasing property taxes or raiding county reserves.

Paid for by Lehigh County Victory PAC

eckville press said...

A proven tax cutter and government reformer we can trust.

Endorsed by retiring County Commissioner Sterling Raber.

Tom Creighton wants government to spend less.

Not more.


Paid for by the Committee To Elect Tom Creighton

Anonymous said...

The Lehigh County Victory PAC was created and run by Dean Browning.

As evidenced by prior posts, the goal is to say whatever is needed to get elected, then govern in an entirely different manner.

Sick and Tired said...

Listen people...(and this will be deleted) why are those of us who disagree and complain about what O'Homo says here keep commenting on this one sided blog?

Here is what we do...don't comment at all!!!! You know why? Because without US!! He has no forum!! He only post subjects which he thinks will get him great "hits" such as Angle and Gracedale.

Most of the post on those topics have responses from people who disagree with O'Homo. In fact I would say 80% of the responses are against his one sided hypocritical views. So why should WE play into that?

WITHOUT US HE HAS NOTHING!!!!!!!! I SAY LET'S TAKE AWAY THE ONLY THING HE HAS LEFT IN HIS AWFUL ALCOHOLIC DISBARRED LIFE!!(HIS BLOG)

Do not respond to any of his topics if you disagree, and he will go away..he has only a few followers and a ton of people who disagree. I will lead the boycott...you follow me!!


All of you "goons,trolls, and kooks" DON'T POST AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!

Patrick McHenry said...

Sick and Tired -

I have an idea.

Why don't you keep your personal agenda to yourself and not make any more comments.

There are those of us who enjoy reading this blog (and others), finding out information not covered by the MSM, and having a discussion with others - including those who might disagree with us.

Bernie might not have removed your comment yet, but he should. I would be more than happy to read through a topic without having to deal with your type of posts.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:36 AM:

Fair enough.

I'll start.

DAs Office

Salary and Fringe Cost:
Lehigh County - $4.3 million
Northampton County - $2.9 million

eckville press said...

To The Honorable Dean Browning,

In the fall election of 2009, the little people, by electing Tom Creighton, signed a contract with the Republican Party to balance the county budget without raising taxes or raiding county reserves . Tom Creighton, with the financial support of the Lehigh County Victory PAC, Lehigh County Republican Committee, and Committee to Elect Tom Creighton, proclaimed he had a plan to balance the county budget without raising taxes. Now, one year later, Tom's plan will not be considered for a vote, and the contractual obligation with the taxpayers will be nullified?

As always,
Respectfully,
Eckville Press