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Opinion

Local Editorial: No double-digit pay raises for Montgomery County workers

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Opinion,Maryland,Local Editorial,Montgomery County

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett wants to give thousands of unionized county employees a double-digit pay hike next year even though the county is facing a $135 million budget shortfall without the pay increases. Pile on the fatter salaries, and the cost to taxpayers would increase an additional $105.3 million over the next two years. The math alone should doom this preposterous proposal.

Under the two-year contracts Leggett signed, some 5,000 county employees would get a 13.5 percent pay raise, most police officers would pocket a 14.7 percent salary increase, and more than half of the county's firefighters would receive a 19.5 percent pay hike.

In February, Leggett claimed that he only reluctantly agreed to the double-digit pay hikes because the county could not afford to lose in arbitration. But from what higher ledge did Leggett talk union leaders down if this is the best compromise he could get after two years of supposedly bare-knuckled negotiations?

The argument that such outsized pay hikes are justified because county employees had their salaries frozen for the past four years does not hold up to scrutiny. The pay freeze was necessitated by a difficult economy that also put county taxpayers in the same boat.

Federal employees living in Montgomery who are currently facing furloughs for up to two weeks and private-sector workers struggling with stagnant wages and skyrocketing insurance premiums are rightly indignant about being asked to subsidize a 20 percent pay raise for county workers, which would also considerably add to Montgomery's pension obligations.

Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg, spoke for them and all county taxpayers when he call these outsized pay hikes "excessive and irresponsible." Andrews recommends a much more reasonable pay hike in the 4 to 6 percent range. Council members should insist on it, especially since they have still not kept their promise to eliminate Leggett's 2010 "temporary" energy tax increase (155 percent on homeowners and 60 percent on businesses), which was supposed to sunset in 2012.

The council reneged on that promise by reducing the energy tax only 10 percent last year, and Leggett has not proposed any further relief in his 2014 budget. As Councilman Andrews astutely pointed out, Montgomery County "has no difficulty attracting and retaining excellent employees ... but is having difficulty attracting and retaining businesses" -- which provide jobs for residents and revenue for the county.

As so many other jurisdictions across the nation have discovered to their dismay, that's a sure sign of future decline.

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