Important Update on the County Budget

Dear Friends,

Last week I introduced a responsible county budget that maintains essential services and does not raise your taxes.

Now I’m being attacked by those who are addicted to the unsustainable growth in our county budget. They want me to either increase taxes so the government can spend more, or they want me to pretend that county revenues (AKA your tax dollars) will grow, grow, grow in the miracle of the Joe Biden economy.   

I won’t raise taxes and I will not override the solid advice and recommendations for the budget by Harford County’s Spending Affordability Committee (made up of local business owners, CPAs, financial investors, and the like) who tell me that our County will likely have to endure a faltering economy in the coming year and must reduce spending over the coming year to account for likely reductions in revenues.

I want to remind you of a famous quote by President Ronald Reagan — balancing the budget is a little like protecting your virtue, you just have to learn to say “no.” 

My proposed budget says no to excessive and unnecessary spending. Today, we’re living in fiscally challenging times, and we must focus on what we need before we overspend or raise taxes for what we want.  This is the same thing I hear from Harford County families who are tightening their own household budgets – needs come before wants.

Harford School Superintendent Bulson, who lives in Montgomery County and has no personal stake in our local economy, and the teachers’ union have been the most vocal critics, claiming that my budget will force drastic cuts in education.  As you can see from the below graph, this is simply not true; it’s always good to have the facts. Not only does my proposed budget meet the state mandated level of funding for our County, but, as the graph shows, Mr. Bulson is, in fact, receiving $22.1M more this year than last. 

Superintendent Bulson has also accumulated a reserve school fund of over $90M of your tax dollars from previous years, including a $30M County bonus payment last year alone. Ninety million of your tax dollars is too much to have sitting in Board of Education accounts while Superintendent Bulson and the union are pushing for a tax increase. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Bulson, who has seen student performance fall throughout his term in office (see below graph presented by HCPS to the Board of Ed on March 27, 2023), emphasizes
spending over student performance as his measure of educational success. He has chosen to stray from Harford’s traditional focus on the 3Rs and, instead, emphasizes building the school bureaucracy to support an array of new programs and making our schools agents of societal change. Rather than reduce nonessential expenses, he threatens to cut essential educational services. Mr. Bulson has, within his control, sufficient funding to meet important educational priorities of keeping class sizes small, improving student performance, and making sure we can retain and recruit good teachers. 

Folks are asking me why, after so many years of watching the County budget grow without objection, we are suddenly in the midst of a major budget battle. Two things changed since those prior budget expansions. First, I was elected by a solid majority of voters who demanded fiscal accountability, and they trusted my well-earned reputation from my days in the Army and as a state senator to always do the right thing. 

Secondly, last year being an election year, the previous County administration went on a big spending spree, ran up the debt, and reset government spending expectations to a new high, which some want me to sustain going forward. That big spending included, in part, a major increase to the Board of Education of $30M above the county’s state mandated funding for schools. Because the County overspent last year, we had a budget deficit of over $90M, which we had to dip into our fund balance (savings) to pay. 

At the same time the prior administration was spending $90M from the fund balance to cover excessive spending, they also cut the tax rate, which reduced revenue by $20M. That is the classic “have your cake and eat it too” political play.  It can work in the very short run, but fiscal reality dictates that we can be big spenders and high taxers or a little spenders and low taxers. We cannot be big spenders and low taxers.

Today, we are feeling the pain from last year’s budget. This year, the County is no longer sitting on a fat fund balance, our tax revenues have been reduced by $20M, and inflation has pushed up our costs across the board. Our choices are to either live within our means or raise taxes.  I have opted to live within our means. 

If you support fiscal conservative practices and oppose more spending and higher taxes, then I thank you for supporting this budget. Good leadership is about having to make hard decisions and making the right ones. This is the fiscal conservative approach you elected me to carry out. 

Please make sure to come voice your support for this responsible budget! Budget public hearings will be held on May 4 and 10, 2023, 7:00 PM at 212 S. Bond St, Bel Air, MD 21014. You must be registered by the start of the FY Budget Public Hearing if you want to provide comments at the hearing. According to the official announcement, “It is strongly recommended you pre-register by emailing or calling 410-638-3343 by 5:00 PM the day of the scheduled hearing.”

Looking forward to working together to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,