Monday, November 01, 2010

Browning Answers His Critics

In the days leading up to last week's vote on Executive Don Cunningham's 16.1% tax hike in Lehigh County, Dean Browning was under incredible pressure. GOP Party Boss Wayne Woodman had cooked up a scheme to embarrass Cunningham and send the $390 million budget back to him, along with instructions to return with a zero-tax-increase budget. Glenn "Commissioner No" Eckhart was able to sell this idea to all his Republican colleagues. All except Chairman Dean Browning.

This would have required Cunningham to come up with $14 million more in cuts. During five months of budget review, no Commissioner had even hinted these cuts could be made. The Administrative Committee, chaired by Percy Dougherty, had come up with nothing approaching this figure. They just aren't there, and Republican Commissioners know that better than most. Dean Browning, whose specialty is finance, knows that better than most Republican or Democratic Commissioners.

But Party Boss Woodman had decided to embarrass Cunningham and set up an issue for next year's municipal races, so he had to snap Browning in line. For days, Browning was besieged by phone calls and emails. Threats of retaliation came not just from the tea party crowd, but some mainstream and very well respected bluebloods in the GOP. "Vote with us, or your career is over," was the sentiment.

Browning was also trashed as a "RINO" on Bobby Gunther Walsh's radio program, even when Eckhart tried to step in and point out some of the savings Browning has realized. You can listen to that program below:
Walsh called on his listeners to be there for the vote, and they were.

In the end, Browning voted his conscience, following Edmund Burke's admonition that he owes voters his best judgment, not the dictates of some party boss. "He betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Browning's courage really moved me. It even impressed Morning Call columnist Bill White, who like me is always much happier when he's ripping into someone.

Blogger Michael Molovinsky, an independent conservative with no love for Cunningham (or anyone, for that matter) is unhappy with Dean's vote. "When you can't find anything to cut out of a $390 million dollar budget, maybe you're not looking very hard." Party Captain Scott Armstrong parrots Molovinsky's complaint, but is more melodramatic. "So, after two months of scrutiny, there is no room for any cuts in the county’s budget? That is what you have to believe to support what happened last Wednesday. This was an epic failure all around."

Neither Blogger Molovinsky nor Captain Armstrong have provided a single suggestion during the six months preceding last week's vote, but their complaint sure sounds good.

Over the weekend, blogger Chris Casey and I decided to ask Dean why he couldn't find fat in a $390 million budget. Here's our brief interview, question by question.

Isn't there room to cut in a $390 million budget?

"That's a process that has been going on for five months before August 31, with many iterations back and forth, to arrive at the final budget that is then presented and then given to the Commissioners to evaluate and possibly cut and approve."

Would LC Commissioners Really "Negotiate" a No-Tax-Hike Budget With Cunningham?

"We have one particular Committee, the Administrative Committee, whose primary responsibility is to deal with the budget for Lehigh County. The Vice Chairman and Chairman of that Committee have yet this year to schedule a single meeting, either with the Executive, or his Director of Administration, to review the plans for the 2011 budget."

When Cunningham Threatened to Cut Courts' Budget, Was He Fear-Mongering?

"If you want to make cuts without impacting the Courts, Corrections or the District Attorney's Office, that means eliminating every other department in the entire County and you know you can't do that."

Does LC Have a Spending Problem Instead of a Revenue Problem?

"It has a problem in both areas."

Is Dean Browning a True Conservative?

"I've submitted numerous amendments to reduce spending and focus County government on its key responsibilities. The net effect of that is that the budget for 2011 is $9.5 million less than it would have been if I had not initiated those changes. ... I ask people to take a look at my record and judge for themselves."
Blogger's Note: My thanks to Chris Casey, who collaborated on the interview with Dean.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
michael molovinsky said...

bernie, where does one begin to correct this propaganda?
this was not a scheme cooked up by a party boss, it was a change in the home rule charter instituted for this very purpose of preventing budgets by default.

browning failed to vote yes for the lesser amended budget, which would have eliminated one position and put some capital expenses under more scrutiny

i too like dean, but in your video interview, he sounds like a press secretary for cunningham. the entire process he describes has nothing to do with the commissioner's role, which is to represent the taxpayer in regulating excessive taxation.

Anonymous said...

Bernie -

You admittedly like Dean and I'm sure this is another attempt to restore Dean's credibility before the May primary. Many other posts will certainly follow.

It doesn't take multi-paragraph posts with embedded interviews for voters to understand what happened. Try as you want to explain it away, the voters know why they are getting a tax increase and that reason is Dean Browning. At least Republican voters understand that.

If Dean is interested in re-election or has future political aspirations, he should switch parties. Democrat voters either don't mind their elected officials raising taxes or would be gullible enough to believe Dean's explanations.

Anonymous said...

Your effort to help Dean just digs him in deeper with his base. Insulting those who have stood by him in the past because of a disagreement on this budget is tacky. The previous post is correct, Democrats generally don’t mind when their elected politician raise their taxes. Republicans on the other hand see the virtue of fiscal restraint.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Folks are furious with Browning's vote. We predict he will not win re-election.

Anonymous said...

What a "maroon." Is Gunther a yummy cookie?

Anonymous said...

What is 2:48 am talking about? Did Walsh interview Toomey on air or something?

Anonymous said...

Dean Browning is a man of courage. The unfortunate thing is that his party has abandoned him. But Dean should know that the party will ultimately self-destruct. People will know the truth about Wayne Woodman. Just wait.

Anonymous said...

No matter what, this was a chance for Dean to show he really is a conservative, and that the GOP is the party that has the backs of us taxpayers. Dean failed.

Bernie O'Hare said...

MM,

The lesser budget (14% tax hike) just put things off a year, and next year, they will just cost more.

This was in fact a scheme cooked u by a party boss and for the express purpose of playing politics instead of governing. Browning refused to play.

LC Comm'rs had that budget for 5 months and did nothing, even though that is their only real power. They made no effort to cut costs, conducted no meetings with department heads or the administration, and then decided to just send it back with no inquiry at all??? That's just irresponsible.

I notice again that not one of Browning's critics, from Captain Armstrong to you to Woodman to Ott, have offered one area where costs could be cut. They have made clear that they don't want courts to shut down. But as Dean notes, that would require Cunningham to shut down EVERY other department. I guess you could put off recording deeds for a year.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Now I guess Cunningham, if he were the savvy politician, could have sent a budget like last year, somewhere around $412 MM, and let Comm'rs cut the fat. But he wasn't playing politics and neither was Browning. In fact, there were many iterations of that budget before Comm'rs got the $390 MM budget, which is $22 MM less than the previous year. Dean Browning alone came up with $9 MM worth of savings. So basically, the budget as presented was fiscally responsible.

The notion that a fiscal conservative should ALWAYS be opposed to a tax increase is ridiculous. There are times when that is the only fiscally responsible answer. This is one of those times.

The fact that not one person has identified an area that can be cut responsibly, is a testament to the fact that this is a good and fiscally responsible budget.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It doesn't take multi-paragraph posts with embedded interviews for voters to understand what happened."

Heaven forbid that you would let facts get in the way of your opinions.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have deleted 2:48. This post is not about Bobby Gunther Walsh.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" People will know the truth about Wayne Woodman. Just wait."

Look, if you have something to say, say it. But you better back it up. I disagree with Woodman on this one, but do not challenge his personal integrity or his desire to be part of the process.

Anonymous said...

Please don't bring Edmund Burke into this argument.
Browning voted his conscience, but it doesn't make him a conservative, or place him in the same category as Burke.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, i find it difficult to believe that none of those public safety departments could not be cut back at least somewhat. if they comprise 65% of the budget, i believe a small cut in each could have done it. in all due respect to judge platt, i don't think he should have testified at that hearing. i think it's up to the different departments to make do with what they're given, at that point. i'm not going to study the budget, or pretend to, as part of your defense of dean.
you and dean can tell the voters next election that they should study the budget before deciding who to vote for, good luck with that.

Bernie O'Hare said...

As a matter of fact, Edmund Burke also stated, "All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter."

There is little sentiment for that among LC Republicans these days. The whole point of compromise is the recognition that, no matter what one's view may be, it's very possible that it's wrong. So taking a knee jerk reaction against ALL tax hikes is necessarily flawed from the onset.

Chris Casey said...

This is not propaganda, this is a man being reasonable, actually doing the job he was elected to as part of government.
It's easy to lob grenades and make accusations about "party bosses" and I have heard a few. I am checking it out as best as I can. I echo Bernie's sentiments, if you have something to say about Woodman, sign your name and say it. Otherwise, keep it to yourself. The truth will come out, eventually, whatever that truth is.

LVCI said...

"i'm not going to study the budget,.."
I'm still stumped by this line of reasoning. How can anyone argue about individual costs within the budget when someone admits they never even read them with a guy who has studied and worked on the entire budget?

I don't know about you but if I get a bill from a doctor or a car repairman I'd feel really ill prepared to question the bill from them w/o reading the itemization of what I was being charged for. If I were the doctor or repairman being questioned about my bill I would at least hope the customer read my bill before complaining. If there's some reason you feel your being over billed (over taxed) shouldn't you provide specific details as to why??

Should either political party eat their own this quickly when one of their own should have even one toenail stray from the conga line?

Patrick McHenry said...

LVCI -

This is not "one toenail stray from the conga line". This is about the size of government and increasing property taxes. These are core issues for anyone who calls himself a conservative.

If Dean had been one of the four robot-like Dem commissioners voting "no" to every spending cut and for the tax increase there would be no outcry. But this is from a Republican who puts out a self-serving newsletter called the Lehigh Valley Conservative.

I find it interesting the two of Dean's biggest defenders on this blog (Bernie and Chris Casey) are Democrats. That doesn't make them bad people, but it does make them likely to support those who are (or who vote like) Democrats. It also makes them more likely to view cutting the size of government as impossible.

And it isn't just conservative Republicans who are upset at Dean. Moderate Republicans were also against Dean's vote. Dean was contacted by the Republican voters who put him into office and Dean turned his back on them. Those same voters will remember that come May.

Guy Williams said...

I for one admire Dean for his courage to do the right thing despite the political ramifications.Politics always seems to get in the way.Sadly Bill Heydt, who i also admired, was crucified politically.Who loses,WE do.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Patrick,

Conservatives believe in smaller government, right? That budget gives you smaller government. It is $22 MM less than the previous year. The employment level is at its lowest level since 1990. $9 MM of the cuts come directly from Browning. So Browning has been acting like a conservative.

There is nothing in conservative ideology that says you must oppose ALL tax hikes. By that reasoning, Ronald Reagan was no conservative. He imposed a large tax increase on business in 1982, higher payroll taxes in 1983 and higher energy taxes in 1984.

What you have in Browning is a realist who did everything he could, consistent with his conservative ideology, to reduce the budget. But unlike some of his critics, he is unwilling to bring government to its knees. That cannot happen. Vital human services and the courts wold grind to a halt.

So Browning acted responsibly, like an adult.

Now, where was the hue and outcry over Dougherty and his support of the arts? Or Dougherty and Roman over their support of a bi-county health department? Do they fail to pass the conservative litmus test, too?

I think that, even if you disagree with Dean, you should refrain from judging any Comm'r on the basis of one vote.

Anonymous said...

Bernie:

Yes Edmund Burke said that an elected official owes us his best judgement. However, if your best judgement is not in line with the views of the people you want to vote for you, you will be voted out of office at the next election.
That is what should and will happen to Dean in May.

michael molovinsky said...

LVCI, i find it more incredible that you made itemized defenses of the current budget on your blog, connoting that you did read and fully comprehend it. i didn't read it, nor pretend to

LVCI said...

There's nothing that I'm "connoting" when I clearly state FACTS

Lehigh County's 2010 the budget was $411,764,441 and 2011's budget is $391,160,143... A difference of $20,604,298. That's a cut!

This what got us into a scrap in the first place. When you disagree you start chopping away at my creditability irregardless of the rock solid "facts" that run counter to your "opinion". "Opinions" are not "facts".

2011's budget of $391,160,143 is $20 million less. Either it is or it isn't!

Now unless you have something in particular to dispute with an item on my post.. I stand by my post w/o connotation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:39,

Are you telling me that you'll advocate dumping Dean for voting his conscience on just one of many matters he faces? If I decided my electoral choices on that basis, I'd vote against everybody. I don't think you really mean that.

You should therefore vote Dougherty out of office. He has voted for bi-county health, voting against cutting quality of life grants for the arts and even voted for a 14% tax hike. Andy Roman supported bicounty health and voted for a 14% tax hike. Tom Creighton & Glenn Eckhart both voted for a 14% tax hike, and Creighton ran on the basis that he had a plan to stop additional tax hikes. Based on your thinking, you should really vote all of them out.

But that would be ridiculous. OK, so you don't like Dean's vote, but he's certainly a conservative voice on the Board. He works hard, has saved you money in other ways and voted his conscience. Is it anger at his vote or the fact that he ignored the GOP chair?

If you were to drive a thinking conservative like Dean out of office on the basis of one vote, it will be the greatest gift you can give Dems.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVCI,

The $390 MM budget, which is $20.6 MM less than last year's budget, is an indication that the Exec took a cold and hard look at everything when he started his analysis. According to Browning, there were many iterations along the way.

Let me also point out that only about $100 MM of that money is money over which the County has any control. The rest comes from the state and federal government. So what Cunningham really did was reduce his budget by 20%, which is borderline draconian.

The notion that you could cut even more, without mentioning a single specific that is responsible, is downright silly.

I guess you could eliminate a department or two. Oh wait, Cunningham did that to Recycling.

This already is a lean budget. I appreciate the sentiment that we could look for more, but Comm'rs really couldn't do so after two months.

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

Anonymous said...

A 16% tax increase represents a failure of government. Browning should do the right thing and resign with the rest of the heartless incompetents who have brought great hardship on residents who are trying to keep jobs and homes. Dean Browning is an arrogant embarrassment. If he had any sense of responsibility and accountability for his actions, he'd resign. Raising taxes is easy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"If he had any sense of responsibility and accountability for his actions, he'd resign."

I see. And if you had any sense of responsibility and accountability for your actions, you'd sign your name.

eckville press said...

Eckville Press Proposed cuts;
2011 Lehigh County Budget, Account #1101010100, Pages 1 and 2.

Line 41111 cut $212,116
Line 41791 cut $87,154
Line 42111 cut $900
Line 42112 cut $6,200
Line 43112 cut $69,800
Line 43148 cut $31,350
Line 45281 cut $2,520
Line 46511 cut $$3,500
Line 46866 cut $1,000

Wow so simple, saved $414,540 in just one department.

Proposed new revenue;
20% Tax on all campaign contributions.

Thinking outside the box!!!

Respectfully,
Eck Capone

Bernie O'Hare said...

Eck, Gotta' admit I love the idea of a tax on campaign contributions.

eckville press said...

Perhaps Tom Creighton would hire Eck as a consultant?

Eck has a PLAN and only 780+ pages to go! :)

Patrick McHenry said...

Bernie O'Hare said:

"If you were to drive a thinking conservative like Dean out of office on the basis of one vote, it will be the greatest gift you can give Dems."

********************************

Yeah Bernie, it's obvious that the Dems (including you) are furious with Dean.

LVCI said...

For the folks who are not playing along.. Eckville Press was suggesting eliminating all the commissioners staff and personnel training expenses.

Just felt a need to explain it to the folks. I didn't want EP's well thought out, humorous suggestions to go over the top of other peoples heads.

Anonymous said...

LVCI and Bernie:

Why don't you give us specifics on the $20.6 million in brillant cuts that you are gushing over? Here, I'll help. Over $17.1 million in "cuts" are from Capital Projects! That is $24.4 million in Capital Projects in the 2010 Adopted Budget and $7.3 million in the proposed 2011 budget. You don't have to be a financial expert to come up with "cuts" like that!! (See page 60 of the 2011 proposed budget) Since the budget contains no narrative at all, it is impossible to analyze the impact of such "cuts". However, reducing capital projects from one year to the next does not require "brains and guts" (per Bill Whilte)does it?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've been detailing these cuts all along. Cunningham mentioned them in his budget address. They run the gamut from elimination of a department to reduction of the workforce to reductions in open space. As far as just completely cutting all capital projects, that was gone over during the budget hearings. in my view, it would possible to cut some of it responsibly, but the counter argument is that you are just putting it off a year, and then t will cost more. But these are the nuts and bolts things that have to be examined.

Anonymous said...

Bernie:

Capital Projects were reduced by over $17 million. The Office of Aging (page 18 of the county proposed budget) was reduced by $10 million, because state grants were reduced by $10 million. Those two items resulted in budget reductions of $27 million. Neither "brains or guts" were required for these two reduction! If the total county budget was reduced by (only) $21 million, six million was added to the budget to offset the $27 million in reductions! Does it take "brains and guts" to do that?

LVCI said...

Anonymous 11:20 AM said..."Why don't you give us specifics on the $20.6 million in brillant cuts that you are gushing over? Here, I'll help."

Thanks for the "help" but you could have saved yourself some time and trouble if you would have read my post on 10/30/2010.. Where I stated exactly just that 4 days ago (Sat. Oct 30th).

Bernie stated this in his previous posts as well. His other video post referred to this also. That is exactly what was what Cunningham was talking about when he referred to "if roof leaks you got to fix it.." in Bernie's 1st video. Which can be found here at 45 secs into the video Nobody's trying to hide anything.

As far as "gushing", I also said in my post "I'm not defending the guy, but until I have at least one better suggestion on how to reduce the budget even further I'll refrain from criticizing the guy."Not exactly "gushing" is it?

"reducing capital projects from one year to the next does not require "brains and guts" (per Bill Whilte)does it?"

Dean and Cunningham had at the very least a little more "brains and guts" then the majority of other commissioners who only came up with 3% in additional cuts over 5 months?

You do realize that only reduces the tax increase by about $3 less a year?

Anonymous said...

I agree. The other Commissioners were not exactly a profile in courage.

eckville press said...

LVCI,

My cuts left the part time employees revenue intact.

Personal training expense, seriously?

We now elect non-qualified candidates to office and train them when seated?

Bernie O'Hare said...

"f the total county budget was reduced by (only) $21 million, six million was added to the budget to offset the $27 million in reductions! Does it take "brains and guts" to do that?"

No it does not. You have a very valid point here.

Anonymous said...

Dean Browing is being praised...by Democrats.

And Dean Browing is praising.... Democrats.

I thought Dean was a Republican.

I was wrong.