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November 20, 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Hopeful

Joan Marie Aquilino

Ever have one of those times where you just can't shake that feeling of dread? I normally have an uncanny ability to find good in just about every situation. It's not happening this time.


Oh, it's there and I have faith in America – and Americans – to survive most anything. The economy and budget seem to be the beginning and end of all discussion these days. I do believe we can survive the worse of this if we stop making excuses and bailing out any and everyone that has a hang nail.


1.) The federal budget: It is in the tank and unfixable by anyone other than a divine being, which many now seem to think is President-elect Barack Obama.


Okay, give it a try and prove me wrong. I'm not quite sure how we got to this point of even assuming a person with no track record is capable of fixing what has been screwed up so horribly. I'll hold on to that hope he keeps talking about. The buck stops at the top, and with the stupid over-spending of the last few years, there is plenty of blame to go around.


Sorry, President George W. Bush, but you are the one in the oval office right now. I know there are always excuses and extenuating circumstances; but it doesn't matter because – when you are the top of the food chain of leaders – you are the one that should be held accountable.


I will hold "President" Obama just as accountable. He's already given himself an escape route by saying it might not be done in “a year or even one term” and went so far as to say it might be 10 years out. Gee, that gives him a complete buy if it doesn't happen.


2. State budget: Yea, right! That is laughable. Every cut will be announced and given its proper and appropriate applause by lawmakers. Will they also announce every cent spent, every increase and exactly where and who it is going to? Will they announce salary increases? And will they do it with the same celebration of the ceremonial cuts?


The cuts will be suggested in areas such as education, public safety, healthcare, retirement, etc., only in places designed to create public outrage. Those very same cries will then become the justification needed to raise taxes even higher.


It will be said that if you – the public – wants these programs, then we have to fund them. The cuts Annapolis will offer won't go to areas such as Casa de Maryland and won't be made to programs we don't even know exist and won't notice if they are axed. I'm not surprised by anything that is happening within the O'Malley administration. It's just more of the same stuff he did in Baltimore. Yet, I guess, voters thought something was going to change. Why? It didn't; it hasn't; and I've got serious doubts it ever will.


The infamous slots, you know, the latest greatest program that will deliver us from all budget woes. Slots won't do what lawmakers predicated anymore than the cigarette tax increase did. The monies, if any, will somehow, someway be diverted to other programs, and we will see education shortfalls continue. A Board of Education member in Frederick wanted to take from the county’s rainy day fund because the slot money was coming. Talk about putting the cart-before-the-horse concept.


3. Ongoing county budget woes: Because this is the area I'm most intimately involved in watching, I see tremendous effort being made and some very mature suggestions being offered by a couple of the commissioners.


The staff is offering a plethora of suggestions for budget cutting options. Instead of trying to spread the wealth, the county is talking about spreading the pain. Time will tell if it's lip service, or if hard decisions will be made. It's better to cut salaries a bit than to lay off completely.


I could better deal with a day or two furlough, or a 2 or 3% salary cut, a lesser health care allowance or bigger co-pays, than to lose a job completely. This is the type of situation where private business needs to also step up and help where possible. It doesn't always have to be government mandates funding charity programs.


4. Board of Education budget: For the first time in recent history I see an ever-so-slight awakening, groggy as it may be, that they might not get what they want but will also have to cut what they already have. Its ever escalating budget might actually be put on its own weight loss program.


I still don't think the reality of it all has set in completely. At a recent Board of Education and Board of County Commissioners joint meeting, a school board member asked the commissioners if they had thought about raising revenues. Almost fell off the chair with that one. Another comment disclosed the obvious: We have to get the money from you (county) because we don't have revenue generating ability. All I can say for that one is: Thank God they don't have that ability.


The first thing they could offer to do might be a salary cut to anyone making over $75,000 per year, or perhaps a 3 or 5% salary cut. Think it'll happen? How about a line item budget?


I have noticed Superintendent Dr. Linda Burgee mentioning cost saving efforts; the sale of vehicles, the reduction of overtime, mileage, the non printing of the annual report, their effort toward recycling. That I applaud and wish them well and continued success.


Now that they have their new members, we'll see if this school board has the confidence to put the single loudest voice on accountability on spending and budget cuts in the seat of president of the school board. My guess is there isn't a chance they'll vote Donna Crook into that seat. They have shut her out to date and will continue to do so, I'm sure.


I'm going to end on a positive note even if it kills me. This should be the most positive time of year. The holidays are upon us. With that, the single most productive and amazing charity event this county sees is right around the corner.


Christmas Cash for Kids, held by our very own Bob Miller and all the folks at WFMD and all the many volunteers and businesses. I don't care how bad things look, they will always look better when you help someone less fortunate. Your life will always be improved when you reach your hand out to help a child. If our government spent money the way these volunteers do, I seriously doubt we'd have a budget crunch.


Here's your first challenge. To every elected official in Frederick County, find at least $50 and give it to Christmas Cash for Kids. Bob, you let me know when they do it and I'll send you a matching $50 on top of what I already donate. No excuses Just Do It for the children.


'til next time . . .


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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