October 29, 2010

OBVIOUS: Washington Post endorses Ike Leggett for Montgomery County executive

LIKE MOST local government leaders over the past few years, I siah Leggett, the Montgomery County executive, has faced a menu of unappetizing choices forced on him by plummeting tax revenue. Like most, he has had to make unpopular calls, including slashing budgets for libraries, parks and other services, freezing salaries for county workers, raising taxes for energy and eliminating more than 1,000 jobs - more than 10 percent of the county's non-school workforce.

Mr. Leggett, a Democrat, does not have an unblemished track record; he negotiated over-generous and unsustainable contracts with county employee unions before the recession hit. Still, on balance his leadership has been conscientious and effective, marked by a low-key, conciliatory approach well suited to the turbulent times. He deserves reelection.

Mr. Leggett's Republican opponent, Douglas E. Rosenfeld, a lawyer in private practice, is untested in public office. A longtime Democrat, he switched parties this spring in time to seek the GOP nomination for county executive. He has assailed Mr. Leggett for failing to "reshape" county government to match reduced resources, for underfunding public schools, for failing to attract new business to the county and for what he sees as a wasteful program to relocate and upgrade some county facilities.

Mr. Rosenfeld's critique doesn't hold up under scrutiny; worse, he makes no real attempt to offer any viable alternative to Mr. Leggett's policies. For instance, Mr. Rosenfeld suggests he would drastically reduce county spending, pointing to "managers" and "bureaucrats" who might be laid off. Fine, but in what departments or areas of government would he make those cuts? Mr. Rosenfeld isn't saying.

Not only that, but when it comes to specifics Mr. Rosenfeld is far more eager to describe where he would spend more taxpayer money, not less. For example, he suggests he would restore tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Leggett has withheld from the school system. He says he would unfreeze salaries for county workers that were frozen by Mr. Leggett. He says he would beef up the county's economic development department. All that sounds like a recipe for larger deficits, not the leaner government Mr. Rosenfeld promises.

Mr. Rosenfeld has criticized one major program, known as the "Smart Growth Initiative," as wasteful. In fact, that program, pushed by Mr. Leggett and backed by the County Council, opens county-owned land for high-tech firms; trims Montgomery's bill for rented office space by shifting facilities to county-owned land; and creates thousands of new housing units near Metro stations, where they belong. Although the program requires up-front investment, mostly financed by borrowing, it is projected to save the county money over time and attract private industry.

Mr. Leggett, overseeing a jurisdiction of nearly 1 million residents, has juggled dwindling funds and high expectations better than most local executives. By contrast, Mr. Rosenfeld offers criticism but no better options. SOURCE: Washington Post

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