For Immediate Release: 2/20/2013
|Leggett on the State of Montgomery: Broad Progress Despite Fiscal Challenges; “The Future Is Here – Let’s Move Forward”|
Speaking before hundreds of County residents at the Silver Spring Civic Building Wednesday night, County Executive Ike Leggett said that, “the state of Montgomery County is strong – and growing stronger. We all are fortunate to live in one of the nation’s best places to raise a family, get an education, earn a living and build a business. Most of America would change places with us in a heartbeat.”
“We have navigated through a mighty economic storm, one that ravaged our nation and, yes, deeply affected us,” Leggett told the crowd, “but for all of these challenges, the job market is expanding, our foundation is strong again, and our public school system is excelling as we pass the one million mark in population.”
Leggett outlined public-private partnerships underway to take the County’s biotechnology and life sciences sector to the “next level.”
“Between the Great Seneca Science Corridor, the White Oak Science Gateway and the White Flint Plan, we will help create at least 100,000 new, quality jobs in Montgomery County,” said Leggett.
The Executive unveiled new initiatives that make the County more “business-friendly,” shorten or do away with waiting lists for adult English-language instruction, and boost after-school programs.
With a nod to the 2010 census that showed Montgomery as a “majority minority” County for the first time, Leggett emphasized how the County’s future is tied to its diversity.
“A welcoming attitude plus a strong economy, a quality environment, and an outstanding school system makes Montgomery County a magnet for talented people from every corner of the globe,” said Leggett. “Without the energy and intellect and innovation of our immigrant community, Montgomery County would, quite simply, be incomplete. ‘New Americans’ are a critical piece in building a better future for all County residents.”
Leggett reviewed the hard choices he made over the past six years to put Montgomery County’s fiscal house in order, closing $2.6 billion in budget shortfalls and going five years with a zero increase in tax-supported County spending. Prior to his assuming office, County spending had increased an astounding 42 percent over the previous four years.
“Even before the recession hit, that was, quite simply, unsustainable,” Leggett said. “We were living beyond our means.”
Leggett described the challenges of unsustainable increases in County spending that resulted in multi-billion dollar structural budget gaps; the national recession that reduced revenues while increasing demands on the safety net for those most in need; a growing student population; and decisions on the federal and state levels that shifted even greater burdens onto Montgomery County.
He explained that, “During the past six years, County taxpayers and employees shared in sacrifices needed to remedy budget gaps. Many already financially strapped residents have had to pay a little more in taxes, while receiving somewhat less in some services. Dedicated County employees have suffered layoffs and furloughs, while receiving no cost-of-living increases for four years and paying a larger share of their own health care and retirement costs.
“I recommended and implemented a plan that eliminated 10 percent of the County government’s positions. All these choices pained me greatly, but they were the right decisions for Montgomery County.
“Because we battened down the hatches and overhauled basic functions, our County has come through the storm. We maintained our coveted Triple-A bond rating, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in borrowing costs every year. We are holding the line on property taxes at the Charter level.
“I have worked aggressively to increase reserves to better protect the County if we face budget shortfalls in the future. We have, for the first time, allocated far more resources in advance to meet weather-related emergencies. I also developed a prudent plan that established a trust fund that sets aside tens of millions of dollars. This fund will help meet the anticipated health care obligations for retired employees, thereby averting a potentially huge financial crisis for the County in years to come.
“While we were putting our fiscal house in order, we were also working to make sure we were in a strong position to rebound once recovery started to happen. Take a look at how our balanced approach to addressing these difficulties has helped bring us out of the worst of the economic crisis:
“The numbers that we want to go up are going up – and the numbers we want to go down are going down. I call that progress.”
“Several years ago,” he said, “I virtually stood alone in advocating for an increase in the State’s gasoline tax. It wasn’t popular then, and it isn’t popular now. But we needed it then, and we still need it now. In fact, we need an increase in transportation revenue now more than ever before.
“That’s why I call upon the State Legislature to do the difficult thing, the courageous thing, the necessary thing and the right thing: Pass an increase in the State’s gasoline tax, now. It hasn’t been increased since 1992 –when George Bush Senior was President. This will help replenish the State’s Transportation Trust Fund and assist counties throughout the State to advance major transportation infrastructure.”
Leggett also highlighted results that showed the value of County investment in public safety and human services:
He proposed three new initiatives to better prepare the County for the future:
But Leggett doesn’t want to stop there. Leggett asked, “Do we need a cumbersome State/County planning review model that was adopted close to the turn of the century? Beyond that, we need to ask: Do we really need three transportation reviews? Do we really need three environmental reviews cutting across several different agencies?
“Now is the time,” he said, “for all of the County’s outside agencies and County government to put everything on the table. Let’s keep what’s working – and build on that. And, get rid of what doesn’t work.”
“We have accomplished a great deal thus far by working together,” he said. “But much remains to be done.
“The new economy – and the new America – places a premium on Montgomery County’s greatest strengths -- who we are, what we know and what we can do.
“The ‘Knowledge Economy’ favors those who can work with different people, in different environments, with different cultures - who can do difficult things, and who can make products and provide services that are in demand in distant ports of call.
Leggett will send his proposed fiscal year 2014 operating budget to the County Council on March 15.
|Release ID: 13-045
Media Contact: Patrick Lacefield 240-777-6507
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