Pay raises we can afford
April 30, 2019
Today the Council took an initial vote on next year’s compensation for County employees, as proposed in the County Executive’s budget.
As part of our annual budget process, the County Executive is responsible for negotiating labor contracts with the unions. The Council then has the final responsibility of making sure that compensation is affordable.
While I support a raise for our employees, the County Executive’s proposal includes a 9.4% increase for many County employees in the MCGEO bargaining unit. (Increases for Fire and Rescue and Police officers are about 5.9%; teachers and school support personnel are scheduled to get 4.5% increases, on average.)
MCGEO members are the workers you will see driving a bus for long hours, inspecting rental housing, or providing health services. Like other public employees, they keep this county humming, and they deserve a raise.
But after careful consideration, I voted no on the 9.4% raise, as did my colleagues.
I cast that vote because I take my obligation seriously to look to the future as a steward of our tax dollars.
Under the County Executive’s agreements, total compensation would grow at nearly double the rate of county revenue. When compensation grows faster than revenue, it consumes more of the budget over time, leaving less for new initiatives.
I think you will agree that we must be careful to preserve funds for goals such as reducing MCPS class sizes, expanding pre-k and afterschool programs, improving transportation and fighting climate change, to name a few.
By comparison, Federal employees, who make up a large share of our taxpayers, are receiving increases this year that are less than half of that amount.
While there is no doubt that the Recession was tough on our employees, with pay freezes for several years, since then, they have received steady raises.
The County Executive’s proposed 9.4% raise is all the more difficult because it is plain now that our budget has a structural deficit. The only way the budget achieves balance is through an extraordinary measure — using revenues from last year identified for the retiree health benefit fund.
Like a large ship, the County’s budget changes direction slowly. I think this is an important moment to begin to “turn the ship” and express the Council’s strong desire to start taking steps to resolve our structural deficit.
The County Executive talked about our fiscal challenges on the campaign trail, as did Council candidates. The County Executive’s mantra was that as a leader trusted by the County unions, he could work with them to right-size County government — recognizing that it is more affordable to provide raises to a smaller workforce.
He’s right about that, and I hope he follows through. I am prepared to work with him.
The budget we received, however, adds 90 new positions, exacerbating the impact of compensation increases.
I share the County Executive’s stated desire to make County government more efficient, and I also strongly believe that we can do more to promote economic growth in the County. If we achieve major savings and our revenue growth accelerates from a hotter economy, then I absolutely believe that County employees should share in those gains.
But let’s not count the chickens before they hatch: we have to make the necessary changes before claiming savings.
I look forward to supporting a raise that we can fund over time — one that is more in line with the wage increases that other bargaining units and our taxpayers are experiencing.
This past February, Councilmembers Jawando, Rice and I sponsored a resolution to establish the Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission to secure our County’s memorial from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to commemorate the three known lynchings in the County. The Commission will include 10 voting members of the public. If you’re interested in being involved as a member of the commission, you can apply online up until May 13, 2019.