Talking Out of Both Sides of the Mouth?

Talking Out of Both Sides of the Mouth?

An unexpected blow-up in Montgomery County politics has County Councilmember Phil Andrews criticizing County Executive Ike Leggett for “talking out of both sides of his mouth” “for saying that employee furloughs have harmed government services while at the same time moving forward with plans to provide more paid vacation to county workers”, the Gazette newspaper reports.

Some people are wondering the same thing about White Flint financing proposals. In today’s Gazette, Diane Schwartz Jones, Leggett’s chief administrative staffer (and who is charged with overseeing the White Flint Plan) is quoted as saying “an additional real estate property tax will likely be placed on commercial and possibly all residential properties in White Flint.” Wasn’t this the same Diane Jones who sent an e-mail claiming the residential tax was a “very rough and virtually unvetted proposal”?

County staffer Diane Schwartz Jones 

Jones explained: “No recommendation has come from the county executive yet, so we don’t know what that figure will be or what it will need to cover,” she said. “…When we looked at the outline given to us by [the M-NCPPC] there was still a gap that needed to be filled.” That “gap” is the difference between the huge percentage of infrastructure financing which will be paid for by commercial development and the total cost of the project. When White Flint development starts, that new commercial development won’t be built yet, so there won’t be money in the bank to fund the first few items.

But that’s a disingenuous argument: there are almost always such “gaps” in infrastructure financing. No government waits around until they have cash to pay for these projects just sitting in the bank. That’s why we use BONDS, and that’s why the County just recently was touting its success in retaining its AAA bond rating (which lets it float bonds at the lowest cost possible). Given how often County staffers talk about bonding projects, you know the “gap” argument is a stalking-horse. Besides the commercial developers have already said they’ll “forward-fund” these projects, taxing themselves even before the projects are built, just to get the infrastructure in place.

And let’s just run those cost and revenue numbers, shall we? The proposed residential tax, even at the highest punitive figures Jennifer Barrett, the County’s chief number cruncher, has been bouncing around these days, would bring in at most about $8 million. Out of $1 billion in infrastructure costs, almost all of which would be paid for by developers directly or through the new commercial development tax. And that would support White Flint development which, by the way, would produce $6,900,000,000 in new tax revenue for the County (that’s $6.9 billion, or about one thousand times the amount of the new residential tax).

Given the fact that the new residential tax proposal is likely to kill the White Flint Plan, does Diane Jones really want to give up seven BILLION dollars to grab a few million out of White Flint residents’ pockets? Which we don’t even need. And they know it? Is this the same “fairness” argument which says that the County Executive is not going to put one dime into a “rich” area like White Flint?

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall


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