On May 23rd the Washington Post published a story by Lateishia Beachum discussing the budget process in Prince George’s County.
In the article Michael Sanderson the Executive Director of the Maryland Association of Counties made the case against allocating a small portion of funds in the County budget to support programs to benefit County residents.In response to Michael Sanderson's comments and other fiscal hawks quoted in the recent Washington Post article, I'd like to offer a different perspective. While I respect Mr. Sanderson's dedication to fiscal responsibility, I believe that we must also consider the value and potential impact of investing in crucial community programs.
Let's begin by addressing the economic landscape. Sanderson refers to our economy as a "triple witching house" and questions the strength of the economy without federal support. It's true that we're in an unusual economic period, but let's look at the numbers. The budget has increased from $4.34 billion to $5.3 billion (factoring in the new 60 million dollar revenue shortfall), a rise of 23.2%. For a family making $55,000, this would be like budgeting for the upcoming year after getting the news of a raise to $67,609 in annual income. This isn't an illusion, but a notable increase.
Now, let's address the programs that are currently under discussion. It's crucial to note that these aren't just new liberal expenditures, as they may be perceived. They are key initiatives aimed at strengthening our community and improving lives.
The guaranteed basic income program, for example, is a temporary initiative that is set to be matched by local philanthropy. By not funding it, we stand to lose potential money that would directly benefit our residents. It's essentially leaving money on the table, money that could make a substantial difference in the lives of our county's most vulnerable residents.
Then there's the senior housing program, a vital initiative that doesn't require a significant additional contribution from the county because it's mostly funded by state money. The rental assistance program, too, can be funded through a repurposing of existing funds, creating a fund that's more accessible to those dealing with rent gouging.
Finally, the Fair Elections program isn't a new program as implied in the article. It was created in 2018, and the longer we leave it unfunded, the more we'll need to allocate in the future.
Sanderson suggests that a 1% shortfall in the budget can have significant impacts. While it's true that every percentage point matters, we should also consider the scale of the budget increase and the size of our reserves. The county has $625 million in reserves, or 11.7% of the budget. In our household scenario, that would be like having a $7,901 emergency fund, on top of a $2,907 savings from the previous year. We are not on the brink of financial disaster; we have a large fund balance, reserves and an increased budget.
The proposed investment in community programs represents a small fraction of this budget increase. It's 0.28% of the total budget, or the equivalent of that same family now making $67,609 investing $189.30 into something they deeply care about after receiving a $13,000 raise. This is not about jeopardizing our financial stability, but about making a conscious choice to invest in our community. You can also add to this the fact that as we discussed earlier these are not new unsustainable long term programs, but in some cases temporary programs, or existing programs that have been underfunded for years, and in other cases reallocations of existing program funds to improve service delivery for residents.
Finally, Sanderson highlights the potential impacts on public parks, road maintenance, and snow removal. These are important services, but they are not the only ones our residents need and value. The programs we are advocating for address social justice, affordable housing, economic development – areas that can transform lives and improve our community in profound ways. Also, nothing that we propose would disrupt those services.
So, while I agree with Sanderson that we need to be mindful of our budget and reserves, I also believe we have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to invest in programs that reflect our values and aspirations as a community and we have the money to do this responsibly. Let's use our budget wisely to create a brighter future for all residents.
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