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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Browning: How to Stop Deficit Spending in County Government

Pick a county. Any county. Most of them engage in the same deficit spending that we see in Washington. But unlike the Beltway Boyz, they can't print money. Eventually, they run out of it and have to impose a tax increase. That builds up the fund balance, opening up the door to more deficit spending. This has happened in both Lehigh and Northampton County in what can only be regarded as a bipartisan failure. It makes no difference who's in charge. It's just too tempting to spend down reserves instead of imposing a modest tax hike when it is needed. Dean Browning, a former Lehigh County Commissioner who is running again, has a plan to put both counties back on a firm financial footing - a true balanced budget amendment to both Home Rule Charters.

Though both counties require a balanced budget, what is created is a fiction. The spending is almost always greater than the revenues, so counties use cash reserves to plug the gap.

Over the past dozen years, lehigh County has had two tax increases. Northampton County has had three. Browning explained his proposals to Lehigh County Commissioners at the March 11 meeting.

"[B]udget deficits are caused by elected officials approving budgets that put in place a plan to overspend. Approving budgets where you plan to spend more than you take in and then hoping for the best is not sound fiscal policy.

"Families don't budget that way, at least not if they want to stay out of bankruptcy. Businesses don't budget that way, at least not successful ones. And Lehigh County shouldn't budget that way. Otherwise we are no better fiscal stewards than those in Washington - and In Lehigh County taxpayers deserve better."

Northampton County's Home Rule Charter considers the budget balanced so long as the proposed expenditures do not exceed the amount of funds available. [Section 703(b)]. Similarly, Lehigh County's Home Rule Charter allows the "balancing" to be accomplished by using "the total of estimated income AND cash reserves."

Brown insists this has to change. He is suggesting a "balanced budget amendment" to the Home Rule Charter in Lehigh "that would prohibit the use of cash reserves as a means to balance the budget." There would be exceptions for emergencies or to give a credit to taxpayers when the underlying budget is still balanced, but that would need six votes.

Of course, Browning was politely ignored. But people might start paying attention of he gets the Republican nomination. He's running against a group of four other candidates - Amanda Holt Vic Mazziotti, Brad Osborne and Marty Nothstein - who have already run disappointing robo calls attacking Browning. He'll have to respond, and the result will be an ugly slog in which no one, least of all the people, benefit.

Browning's balanced budget amendment is a good idea, and he should be given the opportunity to implement it. Someone should pick up on this idea in the People's Republic of Northampton County, too.


Anonymous said...

I like Dean, and will vote for him, but this is fluff. You could fairly easily work around it. But, I get why he's doing it, so what the hey...

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight. Basically what you are telling me is that if Northampton and Lehigh County sell their Nursing Homes for (lets say) 30 million plus dollars, they can't put that money in a cash reserve. What do they do? Spend it? If the executives refusal to not fill vacancies at the prison and former "row" offices prevails and he saves millions of dollars, we must spend down all that money without putting it in a cash reserve? Chaos will prevail as we raise and lower taxes each year as a windfall (like the sale of our nursing home) occurs. Now we have 30 million in a reserve and we will lower taxes three mills next year and then raise them again the following year. Reimbursements come from the state for many County programs. Sometimes they are delayed for a year, maybe two or three years. If that windfall comes in midyear the county puts the money in the cash reserve. Every time a reimbursement is early or late should we play the game of "yo-yo" with County taxes? Let's think this out before jumping on that bandwagon. You may get something you didn't wish for.

Anonymous said...

It is a poorly thought out proposal designed to distract from the fact that Browning gave taxpayers a 16% tax hike the one time he successfully got into office.

The Lehigh County Charter already has a provision where the Board of Commissioners can demand a balanced budget, without a tax hike.

Instead of a Charter amendment, Browning needs to grow a spine.

Anonymous said...

Government is NOT a business or a family thus it cannot be run like this simpleton proposes. You don't get to wait until next year for that bridge or wait until next year to provide needed services. You'd think someone who wants to govern would understand this basic concept.

Anonymous said...

Go Browning go!

Anonymous said...

Browning is a goof RHINO and O'Hare is making his goofy idea sound like rocket science because he loves the guy. Nothing new here.

Anonymous said...

Good for Dean!

Anonymous said...

Bernie , a lot of this is semi-accurate. Counties all pass balanced budgets, unlike the federal government and some others. If counties must live within their means , whatever that means , no one would ever ever get a raise. The jail could only take so many inmates and on and on. In county government no one wll vote to raise taxes if there is a significant surplus or fund balance,and some folks like Mc Clure would never vote for a tax increase under any circumstances but will be the first one to vote to approve additional staff in the D A`s office or for environmentally sensitive land. This is why voters should never vote for someone who declares they will never vote to raise taxes. No one can read the future.
Speaking of increased taxes, school districts raise them every year and the public by and large "eats crow."
People want jobs and the area will soon be like other places crowded and dirty. To assume a taxing body cab live with a budget of 2 or 3 years ago is ridiculous and foolhardy.

Anonymous said...

Dean, Mr. 16%, Browning doesn't think folks are taxed enough. It's a political philosophy that many hold. Let voters decide. They spoke rather loudly the last time they had a chance.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt in my mind that now all of you have a chance to answer this absurd recommendation that Bernie has seen the light. Bernie is not stupid as a matter of fact, he is quite brilliant. He has a problem admitting that he is wrong but he does admit to being wrong when it becomes evident that he spoke out of line. This is one of those times. The whole proposal is bordering on lunacy and everyone's comments here are evidence to that fact. This is a very well educated and knowledgeable audience we are dealing with. Bernie is in the minority and for obvious reasons.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I think it is sound budgeting to require that you can't dip into reserves and must pay as you go and budget that way unless 6 members of the legislative body support dipping into reserves. That is how you stop deficit spending. The attempt to belittle this proposal is more a desire to attack its proponent than a condemnation of the idea.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the "results team", likes to talk about the "unnecessary 16%", when the same team promised to eliminate the increase. If it wasn't unnecessary than why did they not eliminate it? For claiming to have such results, they like to talk about browning more than any supposed results.

Anonymous said...

12:27 -

They have rolled part of it back and are continuing to do so, all while keeping the reserve fund stable.

I suppose you think the way to reduce Browning's 16% tax hike (that you want us to believe you really care about reducing) is by putting Browning back into office.

That makes no sense.

As is with all Browning statements and proposals, this one is covered in half-truths in an attempt to fool the voters. Lehigh County deserves better.

Anonymous said...

@2:07, I guess you are suggesting that we should elect a group of people who rather say what the voters wanted to hear as opposed to the truth? The truth remains that in 2011 a group of people promised to completely eliminate the 16%, they have not done that and have yet to pass a balanced budget.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you missed the news. 2014 ended up with a surplus.

If you want to see budgets that had huge deficits, go back and check the Browning years.