Archive for November 2011
The headlines around the County today make it clear that the debate about whether to put slots in Prince George’s County has a way of bringing many people into the political process. I won’t be using my blog to state a position on slots, but will provide some additional food for thought on this issue. I’m not surprised at the way the final vote turned out yesterday. Tom Dernoga had it right when he tweeted that the 5-4 vote was decided long before our residents packed Council chambers to try and persuade Council opinion on the matter. But how were those votes decided, and when?
Many of my fellow bloggers, tweeps, and political activists point to Senator Mike Miller’s personal stake in Rosecroft Raceway, and his persuasion over those Council members who owe their positions to him, as the one to place their blame. Senator Miller is undoubtedly the most powerful politician in Maryland, if not the United States, for the amount of control he can exert over the political process. That is not up for much debate. But Senator Miller is also correct that Prince George’s County relies too heavily on state funding to pay for our schools, the new hospital we want, additional transit options, more funding to encourage growth around our metro stops, etc. Many people may not like it when I point this out, but our tax cap also limits our ability to generate more tax revenue and just “hoping” for future commercial development won’t pay our bills now. We can’t just go to Annapolis each year with a tin cup in our hand and hope they’ll find a way to send more money our way. Those days are over, the state coffers are empty.
Do I believe there’s waste in our County government that can help reduce our operating deficit? Of course. I’ve pointed that out multiple times on this blog, and uncovered ways that our government overpays employees, overstaffs their administrative positions, and provides mediocre services. But that’s not going to fix the long-term structural deficit we face. We’re going to have to pay more now to get the government services our residents want, and if we’re unwilling to do that then our elected officials are going to make the lousy choice we observed yesterday by opening the door to putting slots in the County to generate the revenue we need. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee slots will deliver that revenue, but it is one of the few options left on the table.
We’ve come to a point where we can’t aspire to Cadillac services on a Ford budget. So we get what we deserve, and an issue I’ve harped on repeatedly: we spent far less on our students than any other jurisdiction in the region or the state, and we get poor-performing schools. Poor-performing schools are dropout factories for youth who turn to crime to survive, and that crime discourages commercial development and high-end growth because nobody who has a choice would want to come here. Crime also costs us money as we pay for more social services, jails, and public safety support to deal with the problems generated from crime. I’m not painting a pretty picture here, but it is the reality that we are facing right now.
We do have choices, and some of those choices don’t involve more taxes. If you want to change the way our community looks, then you need to start by helping our youth. Get involved in your local schools, ask your church leaders to rally people to volunteer their time to mentor and tutor our children, and foster neighborhood relationships so you can create a community where you are proud to live. If you don’t like the choices our politicians make, then don’t just show up at a public hearing to complain. Volunteer for an honest candidate who will make courageous choices as a politician. To remove political party bosses like Senator Miller require lots of money and hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers who knock on every door in this county to educate, inform, and get our residents to the polls to make a change. Otherwise, you’ll get what we’ve always had: people who are bought and paid for holding elected office, making choices with the limited options that are on the table, with residents who are unwilling to get off their comfortable couches and make positive changes in this community.
Voluntering your time doesn’t cost a dime. Every hand can help, everybody can do something, but we all have to contribute to shaping a more positive future for this county, or nothing will change.