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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Cunningham at the Plate

Cunningham at the plate
At high noon in Coca Cola Park yesterday, with the Iron Pigs preparing to play Scranton later that day in their quest for a wildcard berth, LC Exec Don Cunningham was at the plate.

Last year, his budget enacted a 16% tax hike in the middle of a recession, causing many Lehigh County Republicans to flee to Canada and become lumberjacks.

Strike One.

Early this year, those same Republicans returned after learning Canadians smoke weed and have socialized medicine. They got back just in time to reject Chairman Dean Browning at the polls. Ironically, they rid the Board of Commissioners of a financial wizard who was instrumental in helping Cunningham keep that 16% tax hike from becoming a 36% tax hike. They hated the fact that a Republican would work with a Democrat. Especially one who smiles.

Strike Two.

What Cunningham did, when he finally had a chance to speak about what the hell has been going on, was hit the ball out of the park.

Now it's no surprise that Cunningham is a gifted speaker. Even his political foes will grudgingly admit that. But what really impressed me about the Exec's speech yesterday was not his delivery or easy style. Not even the small tax cut, which will save homeowners an average of $30 next year. I was impressed most by his defense of the embattled public employee, his response to the criticism he took last year for finishing with a $5.4 million surplus and his comments about divided government, which I'd call bipartisanship.

Defense of the Public Employee

All of us, me included, have a tendency to generalize when it comes to public sector workers, and point to their generous wage and benefit packages. But yesterday, Cunningham called that a myth. "For those who say all government workers have overly-generous taxpayer-funded wages and benefits, send them to Lehigh County," he said, laying out the facts in Lehigh County.

* Next year's workforce will be as small as it has been since 1990.

* Generous pensions? The average County retiree gets less than $900 per month.

* County workers kick in 5% of their pay for their pension.

* All employees, both union and nonunion, pay for around 20% of their health care costs, and are actually paying $2.1 million more than they did in 2006.

Surpluses lead to tax cuts

We've all seen what happens when local government finishes a year in the red. Three years of $8.5 million in red ink pretty much destroyed Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan's Congressional aspirations, to say nothing of the suspicion with which he is now regarded by members of City Council and the public. Cunningham finished 2010 with a $5.4 million surplus, which should have been cause for joy. It's called "beating the budget," something Cunningham has done every year since being elected as County Exec. But in the crazy world of Joe Hilliard Republicans, finishing the year with a surplus is a bad thing, too. Who knew?

Commissioner candidate Scott Ott and Joe Hilliard, who was then King of the Tea Party, published news releases and sent emails insisting this surplus was proof positive that Cunningham, as well as Chairman Dean Browning, had failed to "fight for taxpayers."

Dean Browning explained this was nonsense, using all kinds of numbers that went right over everyone's head. He's more accountant than politician.

Cunningham yesterday explained it in terms we can all understand.

"In 2010, our managers held the line on spending and beat our budget by $5 million. By some, we were criticized for this. That could be rectified quite easily - and I suppose i could look like a genius for getting the budget exactly right - by spending every last nickel in a line item. I won't do that. I learned early in politics that there are very few good deeds that go unpunished."

Beating the budget in 2010 is what has enabled Cunningham to propose his modest tax cut.

"Saving that money in 2010 allowed us not to spend the $4.3 million in Tax Relief Fund money that was budgeted as part of this year's budget. Therefore, in 2012, we propose to eliminate the Tax Relief Fund and give the full remaining $4.37 million back to the taxpayers in the form of a one-time credit."

BiPartisanship Works

Read Don's speech, which is below, and forget for a moment that he wrote it or that he's the Exec. Now imagine LV Congressman Charlie Dent is County Executive and that is his speech. I frankly believe that, except for some differences in style, the message would be petty much the same.

Cunningham hints at that himself, noting that there has been divided government in Lehigh County since he's been in office. Like me, like Dent, like most of us, Cunningham thinks people can be from different parties and still work together. And he singled out two Commissioners who have always been willing to reach out across the aisle.

"Commissioner Browning, a Republican, and Commissioner [Bill] Hansell, a Democrat, have epitomized the thoughtfulness, toughness and knowledge of County government and public finance that have made Lehigh County great. They have both put their public service above their politics and delivered results by putting hard work, a commitment to their ideals and cooperation above grandstanding - and Dean paid a dear price for it this year. We all owe both of them a debt of gratitude. I will miss them both."

People like Browning get it and understand the need to work together. Many of the items in Cunningham's 2012 budget, especially the employee contributions, are the result of his steady advocacy since his early days as a candidate.

Tom Muller
But Browning is an anomaly. Not one Commissioner candidate, Democrat or Republican, responded to a request from Director of Administration Tom Muller, dated June 1, asking for specific suggestions and recommendations.

And jokers like Joe Hilliard, who conned the local tea party into giving him money for an audit of Lehigh County that is now nearly two years overdue, has resigned without keeping his promise.

Cunningham said it better than I could, and his speech is below.
Don Cunningham's Budget Message for 2012


Anonymous said...

The Republican candidates have idea's, they are coming this fall. They will have programs to cut and specific positions to cut and the hacks that are in them.

There is a con going on in some cases and it will be exposed. Once it is exposed even you Bernie, a Cunningham groupie, will be hard pressed to defend it. While so many real employees are losing their jobs, you will be shocked to learn the facts. Much of this is thanks to hardworking public employees who have had enough of the "pals" that have protected "jobs".

Jon Geeting said...

I'm pretty sure Dent would agree with the rest of the Washington Republicans that a surplus is a sign that taxes are too high. You can't honestly think that he would've voted against Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Anonymous said...

hear the boy figures his only chance at being able to continue on the public dole is to run for mayor of bethlum.
just the mere thought of that sort of makes you want to puke doesn't it

Anonymous said...

6:47 a.m. is spot on.

Take way too much and then brag about returning a fraction of that which was unnessarily confiscated? This, and the venue, are Obumbles style-without-substance tactics.

Anonymous said...

Wow Bernie, looks like the tea party trolls wake up early in the morning...I haven't always been a big Cunningham fan but what he did here and said here was spot on..However, these right wing trolls , just like the Congressional right wing trolls will attack any proposal out there from a Democrat or for that matter a proposal from any sane person..They are pathetic and annoying as bedbugs and hopefully one day, the electorate will wake up and spray them or wash them away entirely..They are pathetic.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The Republican candidates have idea's, they are coming this fall. They will have programs to cut and specific positions to cut and the hacks that are in them."

If the OTTites really have idea's[sic] to save money for the taxpayer, why wouldn't they have resonded to Muller's letter dated 6/1? What positions are they going to cut? Cunningham has already eliminated 201 positions.

Anonymous said...

Bernie pays no real estate taxes and doesn't care about those struggling to keep their homes while incompetent politicians continue to deliver body blows to the struggling. In his world, just as in Cunningham's, all property owners are just whiney rich people who don't pay nearly enough. My spouse and I work four jobs between us for less money than before we downsized two years ago. I know Bernie and Don get giddy hearing how homeowners are falling. Sick.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Bernie pays no real estate taxes "

Actually, although I own no real estate, I do pay the real estate taxes for one family in Allentown. And let me ask, does Scott Ott pay real estate taxes?

Anonymous said...

Don't give a shit about Ott or any D, R, or Tea Party. I'm trying to avoid foreclosure and the needless tax increase hurt. The $30 is a crowning insult to the struggling. All I've done is pay my bills and avoid being a burden to others, including my kids. You and Don seem to find this funny.

Anonymous said...

Please, stop the whining about how homeowners are being tragically forced from their homes by county taxes that cost about $2. a week at best..If I needed two dollars a week more to save my home I'd stop hitting the casino or maybe stop drinking or smoking..If anything, it's the ridiculous school property taxes that are increasing thanks to our wonderful Republican governor and legislators who decided to cut education funding forciing school property taxes through the roof...No county tax increase in either county is going to break anyone except maybe poor ron Angle..Angle has so much property a one mill tax increase will probably cost him a million bucks, lol.

Anonymous said...

And the Cunningham campaign for Bethlehem mayor begins.. Just think Bedlamits you can have Cunningham..Callahan..Cunningham..Callahan.. forever. Your future looks bright.

Anonymous said...

Cunningham is a "REAL ASS"!! Big deal, throws out to people $30. and that is suppose to help the poor. Then on top of it he feels cutting all the jobs in Lehigh County will help! Putting more people out of work & helping the economy down the tubes even more!
Yes..., the rich get richer & don't care about anyone else, just so he thinks he can look better as an exec!! I think it makes him look worse!
No respect for Mr. Cunningham at all!

Anonymous said...

Hey thrifty covetous asshole at 1:36:

Pay my tax increase since you have no problem with it and seem to have the money squirreled away.

This is the attitude that allows incompetents like the never-to-be gubernatorial candidate to continue to prove the Peter Principle on taxpayers' dime. The public sloppers never want to examine their spending habits. But they always want to examine ours.

It's why Cunningham is so hated and barely won re-election despite an enormous war chest provided by the county's connected.

Anonymous said...

Hey moron 2:52.

I can tell by your argument that you've been drinking again..Get off the sauce and you'll be able to afford your own taxes.

Anonymous said...

Do they even pay taxes in your trailer park?

Anonymous said...

Slam the hard working so you may continue on the public tit. This is the full manifestation of hope and change. The lazy takers get industrious when you try to cut them off. Typical.

Anonymous said...

Hey anon 4:08, is that you Danny boy. don't worry the Republican candidates know all about you and your less than competent job with the county.

This will be a great campaign.

Patrick McHenry said...

Bernie -

It's good to see the county executive now realizes what most of us knew last October - last year's tax hike was excessive at best or unnecessary at worst. And it only took 11 months.

Anonymous said...

Ladies and gentlemen the next mayor of Bedlam. HAHAHA!!!!!

Let the taxes and political patronage jobs begin!

eckville press said...

2010 $4,300,000.00 Tax Relief Fund ++++++ 2010 $5,400,000.00 surplus ====== 30 Bucks?

How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

Chris Casey said...

Pretty bizarre exchanges, observing a "TROLL FIGHT!"
Cunningham and Browning are leaders, Ott and company are empty headed publicity hounds.

So here;s a few observations that are telling.

I have attended all Lehigh County Commissioner meetings in August.
At both there were readings of upcoming budget items, in particular, Funding for Cedarbrook Nursing Home, and the 5 year Capital plan for the county.
When Chairman Browning asked for public comment, all I heard was Krickets chirping.

Was Mr Ott, who assumes he will be elected in November there to give his opinion?

No where in sight. Lisa Scheller and Hubby Wayne the Woodman weren't there either. No cameras to smile for, I guess.

Do they think that they will get elected and find out everything they need to know by electoral osmosis?

Yes the Republican candidates have ideas, but they haven't done their polling to tell them what they should say to get elected yet. Then we will hear how bad everything is under the evil Don Cunnigham.
I'm sure Lisa will take another $%0 k out of her money bucket, courtesy of all the jobs Silberline Manufacturing shipped to China and Mexico, and say whatever the pollster says to get her, Scott and Vic on the board of commissioners.

Zorn said...

this boy is the modern PT Barnum

Anonymous said...

Old azzkizzer chiz. yes they will get selected then old Dhannn, will have his patronage jobs and budget opened to the public!

Anonymous said...

We all love Dhannnn!!!

eckville press said...

$9,700,000.00 surplus and an 16% Tax Hike.

Not to mention, a depleted reserve fund.

Last year 16% tax hike, this year $30 crumbs?

It's all politics my friends, all politics.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, is Don still planning to run for governor?