Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
Montgomery County looks to end its feud with public employees. D.C. lawmakers bicker over raising taxes on wealthy residents. And Virginia’s attorney general argues in court against the new federal health care law. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Charles Robinson Political Correspondent, Maryland Public Television
- Gino Renne President, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994, Municipal and County Government Employees Organization
- Elissa Silverman Communications and Policy Associate, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute
Politics Hour Extra
The Kojo Nnamdi Show (http://88-5.us/l4HdIu): D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute Communications and Policy Associate Elissa Silverman talks about the results of a poll her organization commissioned among District residents which found that the large majority of respondents (70%) said they preferred maintaining services rather than holding down taxes. Silverman invited listeners to view the poll questions and results for themselves on the DCFPI website:
“There’s a conscientious strategy being implemented by right-wing zealots in this country to weaken public sector unions,” said Gino Renne, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994. Renne disagrees with a Montgomery County judge’s ruling last week stipulating that a County Executive is not required to support a budget even if that budget was the result of a collective bargaining agreement and approved by a labor arbitrator. Renne says he believes the judge’s decision was flawed:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. We begin today with congratulations to chef Jose Andres and Tim Carman. Two local guys winning James Beard Awards, considered the Oscars of the food world. Jose for outstanding chef. And "60 Minutes" won a James Beard Award for a segment on Jose Andres. Tim Carman won for the best food column for the work he did while with the Washington City Paper. So congratulations, gentlemen.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd, Tom, and Jose is going to be on the broadcast of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on Wednesday. Tom Sherwood, and congratulations to, speaking of Washington City Paper, to Erik Wemple, Mr. Always Lands on His Feet, (laugh) it would appear.
MR. TOM SHERWOODErik Wemple, who's going to be working for The Washington Post, was at City Paper, did a fine job there, went to...
NNAMDIAlmost went to the Village Voice.
SHERWOODAlmost to the Village Voice.
SHERWOODThen go -- went to TBD.
SHERWOODWhat stands for to be torn down. No, I'm sorry. That's my bad. You know, it was the ambitious project that was going to be -- may be a real trendsetter in online news and hasn't turned out quite that way, but it's interesting. And now, the Post has hired him. I think, you know, he used to write a scathing column...
NNAMDIOn the Post?
SHERWOOD...about the media affairs and the Post in particular. So, of course, my first tweet on this was will he still train his eyes on his employer?
NNAMDIKnowing Wemple, that's entirely possible, but...
NNAMDI...Erik Wemple, congratulations to you. Today, we'll be talking with Gino Renne, the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization in Montgomery County, and Elissa Silverman of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. She'll join us to discuss details of the budget and of her social life. Yes, she'll do that. But first, (laugh) I'd like to Tom -- talk to Tom about what's currently taking place even as we speak shortly after noon on Friday, and that is the hearing taking place in the D.C. City Council being presided over by Councilmember Mary Cheh over the hiring policies of the Gray administration.
NNAMDIThe witness today, Lorraine Green, the former campaign manager of now-Mayor Gray, she's been testifying all morning, and it struck me that Mary Cheh began the hearing by indicating that she felt that Judy Banks had perjured herself, and that Gerri Hall was the fall guy, if you will. She was not in fact making decisions, but following instructions.
SHERWOODWell, it's hard for a lot of people to follow the characters. I mean, you need a cast of characters list for this, but I think the key issue here is -- and the Post had an interesting story...
NNAMDICampaign chair Lorraine Green, not campaign manager.
SHERWOODYes. Lorraine Green has known Vince Gray for 30 years. She chaired his campaign to be council chairman. She chaired his campaign to be mayor. She chaired his transition committee. I think she chaired his inaugural committee. I mean, he trusts her. She has adamantly said that Sulaimon Brown's allegation that she paid him money to continue attacking Adrian Fenty last year and got him a job in the city government as a reward is flat-out false.
SHERWOODNothing has been disclosed yet has changed that. The hearing today, she said I've never paid him any money. She said she grew frustrated with Sulaimon Brown, stopped talking to him in November. And I have to say at this point, this fourth hearing on the subject, there's no smoking gun. There's not even a rifle shot at this point that says it looks like it was kind of messy, and there have been embarrassing e-mails. But I don't know where this hearing is going to go.
SHERWOODAnd Sulaimon Brown was supposed to testify starting at noon, and he had not shown up the last time I checked moments ago.
NNAMDIA well-known attorney in the District, A. Scott Bolden, who happens to represent some fairly prominent individuals, says, well, the city council really doesn't know how to investigate.
SHERWOODRight. Actually, Mike DeBonis said the Post wrote a very good column about this and quoted Scott Bolden, who has represented a number of people and does represent people, that the council needs to do a better job. And in fact, it does need to do a better job. It ought to have an investigative committee. Maybe when we have an elected attorney general, when is that? In 2014, we’ll elect an attorney general. Maybe, we’ll get an Elliott Spitzer or a Cuomo-type character who will come in and start knocking over tables, which is what we need on ethics issues in this city.
NNAMDIMore aggressive investigation. I'd like to turn now...
SHERWOODBetter, faster and deeper.
NNAMDII'd like to turn now to Charles Robinson of Maryland Public Television. He joins us by telephone to talk about the strange case of Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway and the $21 million lawsuit that she has filed against Examiner newspapers and one of its columnists, Adam Meister. Charles Robinson, thank you for joining us.
MR. CHARLES ROBINSONIt's a pleasure to be with you, Kojo. This is one of those strange cases where the truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.
ROBINSON(laugh) And the reason why I say that for your audience, understand this, that you obviously have to be a resident of any jurisdiction where you seat in government.
ROBINSONWell, there have been several questions about whether or not Belinda Conaway is a resident of the city of Baltimore where she serves on the Baltimore City Council. This is not the first time this issue has come up. In fact, the same issue came up with the president of the council and a similar incident also came up with another councilmember. But what took this to a new high, if you will...
ROBINSON...was there were tons of documentation, such as land deeds and things of that nature, and, you know, in the world we currently live in where, you know, a blogger becomes a, you know, a news reporter. They try to do their due diligence, and that has come back to bite the reporter in the proverbial rear end, if you will, because Belinda Conaway has sued this reporter for $21 million for defamation of character because he suggested that she didn't live in the city of Baltimore.
SHERWOODJust for the people who haven't followed the story, she owns both homes. Is that correct?
ROBINSONYes. That's correct.
SHERWOODShe owns one with her husband, and she -- so she just...
ROBINSONShe has a home with her dad and her brothers and sisters. For those who are...
ROBINSON...familiar with this type of Baltimore politics, the Conaways are literally a legend in Baltimore. Their dad is the -- is on the county clerk of courts, brother is a member of the state legislature, and they literally have been in politics all of my life. In fact, the irony is I know exactly where the house is because I used to have to pass it on the school bus every day, and they always have the big Conaway signs out front.
NNAMDIWell, for our listeners, her father is circuit court clerk Frank Conaway. Her stepmother is register of wills Mary Conaway and her brother, delegate Frank Conaway Jr. All list the same place as their residence.
ROBINSONAnd it's a huge house. It is not like a row house. It's a standalone house. And as the councilwoman has stated, look, there's tons of rooms there. Now, she did invite the press to come and watch her take her kids to school from that house. And her argument is that, well, I, yes, I own that house, and I own that house jointly with my husband, and her husband's last name is Washington.
ROBINSONAnd the two of the -- that's in Randallstown, which is just outside of the city limits. But once again, the question is, is that your primary residence?
NNAMDIAnd according to the reporter, Adam Meister, they got a homestead exemption for another residence in the 9800 block of Southall Road in Randallstown. And it is my understanding that if you get a homestead exemption, it can only be for a primary residence.
ROBINSONThis has been such a murky issue, and it really goes back...
SHERWOODWell, the law is not murky. The law -- the fact is whether it's -- we've had that same problem in the District where people who buy a house here are -- automatically get this homestead deduction, and it turns out, well, hey, you don't get it unless you legally domiciled here. And that's the key word. Can she show -- the councilmember show that she is legally domiciled in the city of Baltimore.
ROBINSONWell, understand that there have been multiple accusations against various council people, even a state senator was questioned about where his primary residence...
SHERWOODBut the answer is, are you registered to vote in Baltimore or Randallstown? And the answer would be she's registered to vote, I think, in Baltimore. Does she...
SHERWOOD...is -- does she pay city -- are there city taxes -- I'm sorry. In Baltimore, you pay city taxes, I presume, income taxes. Where do you pay -- what taxes do you pay in Baltimore? I don't even know.
ROBINSONWell, you pay state taxes. You don't pay city taxes.
SHERWOODOh, I'm sorry. And...
ROBINSONEverybody looks at -- what they look at -- and this is one of the issues that came up. They want to know, do you pay a water bill in the city?
SHERWOODWell, you could own a building and pay a water bill. Where does...
SHERWOOD...when she files her state income taxes, what address does she give to the state revenue people?
ROBINSONShe still contends she lives in the city of Baltimore. It's going to be very interesting, and I know you've had a similar problem with the owner of the Redskins down there, who's had a reporter -- I don't want to say go after them. But this is one of those, like, I'm going to get your kind of stories. And we'll see how this plays out in the courts.
SHERWOODWell, this seems to me there's some clear -- the law is not unclear about where you're legally domiciled, so that's what I would wonder about this story, is that she -- if she's registered to vote in Baltimore and she pays taxes in Baltimore and she files her income taxes from that address and her driver's license says that address and she has a house in the suburbs she goes to four nights a week, well, then she's still a legal resident of Baltimore. But I'd -- it just sounds a little fuzzy to me, and the law is not fuzzy at all.
NNAMDIHow about the...
NNAMDI...homestead exemption thing, Tom?
SHERWOODThe homestead exemption, you have to be the legal -- that has to be your place of domicile. It has to be where you legally live.
NNAMDIWell, she has two places where she lives, but we'll see how (laugh) this turns out. Charles Robinson, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDICharles Robinson is with Maryland Public Television. You're listening to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst, an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. There was a neat storyline at work. In a lot of states where big union fights have gone down this year, Republican governors, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, came into power with the support of Tea Party voters concerned about overspending, and they used their political capital to target unions.
NNAMDIBut Montgomery County is just about as blue of a jurisdiction as you're going to find. The county executive there used to be the chair of the state's Democratic Party, but here we are in a knockdown, drag-out fight with unions. And joining us now in studio is Gino Renne. He is the president, of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994, Municipal and County Government Employees Organization. Gino Renne, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. GINO RENNEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIHow do you explain this knockdown, drag-out fight that unions are having with the county executive in Montgomery County?
SHERWOODCan I ask just one thing? I want to know just before you start that fun eloquent question.
SHERWOODHow many union members -- how many people do you represent?
RENNEOur local union represents about 10,000 workers throughout the state of Maryland.
NNAMDIWhat do they do?
RENNEThey do just about everything. We have about 300 different job classifications.
SHERWOODHow many are in Montgomery County?
RENNEIn Montgomery County, between career and temps and seasonals, we have about 7,000.
SHERWOODA substantial number of people.
NNAMDIWhat's the problem with what the county executive is proposing in his budget?
RENNEWell, the problem is twofold. Number one, it will disadvantage our members in the sense that it will significantly reduce their spending capacity and do great harm to their families in terms of their ability to sustain their families' lifestyles. Some of our members will be hurt to the point that a foreclosure may be a reality to them. Children will have to be taken out of colleges et cetera.
SHERWOODIt would -- you have members who will take their children out of college if they -- if Leggett's plan goes through?
RENNEThere's a potential for that because you...
SHERWOODThat's only a few hundred dollars more a year. I mean, that's a lot of money, but that's not drop out of college money, is it?
RENNETom, it could be as much as 12 -- well, actually, if the Leggett plan went through, it could be in the downside of about $1,700 a month but up to almost six -- five to 6,000. Now, keep in mind...
SHERWOODA year, not a month. OK.
RENNEA year. Now, keep in mind, we're talking about our lower-wage employees. The...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to tell our listeners...
NNAMDI...that it's my understanding that the county executive, Ike Leggett, had proposed upping the share of health premiums for government employees from at least 20 to at least 30 percent, and he added a surcharge based on income. According to the report in The Washington Post, an employee making 15 -- $55,000 a year would pay between, oh, about $1,300 and about $3,100 more per year to maintain the same plan. That's what we're talking about here.
RENNEThat's correct. That's a significant erosion in their spending capacity and their ability to take care of the needs of their families. You have to keep in mind the average wages of our workforce. For those who were hired prior to '94, the average wage is only 65,000. Anyone hired from '94 on, the average wage is only 45,000. So these are not your hired paid public servants. And any losses, significant losses in their paychecks are gonna hurt.
NNAMDIBefore Tom Sherwood takes everything over, it's my understanding that, for this year's budget, the county council recently rejected some of Ike Leggett's proposals to make county employees pay more in health cost. What's going to be on the table now, and what are you fighting for?
RENNESure. What I can tell you what's on the table now is we're trying to reach a compromise on how we are gonna deal with health care on a go-forward basis and how we're gonna deal with pension on a go-forward basis. There's still some cost shifting on the table. We're rebutting that with cost-savings initiatives because we believe that our approach will actually lead us to a point where we can reduce future costs or at least bend the inflation curve and put us on a path to sustainability.
SHERWOODYou wanna do an HMO-type thing.
RENNENo, not necessarily, Tom. All the studies that I've looked at and all the consultants that we have hired over the years to guide us through this health care and pension maze all say that, look, at the end of the day, a couple of things you have to do. Number one, you have to do a candid assessment how you're spending your health dollars and make sure you're getting value added for the dollars you're spending. Secondly, you have to introduce robust and significant disease management programs, compliance control mechanisms on and on and on to...
SHERWOODMake smokers pay more money, for example.
RENNEWell, no, not make them pour -- pay more money. That's a punitive approach.
SHERWOODYes, it is.
RENNEWe're gonna take an incentive-driven approach. What we wanna try to do, and what we know we have to do, is help our workers become healthier, them and their family become healthier, so we can bend, again, that inflation curve and utilization curve and reduce the utilization...
SHERWOODThat's a longer-term thing and Leggett's looking at immediate problems. But you did mention what's on the table, which is pretty much you *wanna -- who's at the table? I mean, it's Leggett, the unions, county council?
RENNEWell, right now, it's the unions. It's the three-county employee unions -- us, the FOP and the firefighters. The county's directive...
SHERWOODNot the teachers.
RENNENo. The teachers have a different process, different employer. And the county council is involved, yes. So there's three-party...
NNAMDISpeaking of the teachers, Doug Prouty, the head of the Montgomery Teachers Union has said there's a false dichotomy at work here that other savings can be found to protect school and government workers from cuts. What do you say because, apparently, one of the things that this county council wants to do is to be able to spread some of those -- spread some of that, I guess, burden on to the teachers and, apparently, that's gonna be real difficult.
RENNEWell, here's how I would answer it. First of all, I would agree with President Prouty in this regard, that out of a 4.3 dollar -- million dollar budget, I'm gonna continue to maintain that their efficiencies and cost reductions be had through changing our business models, changing -- restructuring the four agencies of the government funds and fighting inefficiencies. That can be done.
NNAMDIBut shouldn't the school system be -- shouldn't the school system carry some of this, share some of the burden here?
RENNEI think -- in my opinion, I think all agencies need to carry their fair share of the burden, absolutely.
SHERWOODWell, of the S4.3 billion budget in the county, how much of that is for schools? Isn't it a substantial portion or...
RENNEWell, it depends on the number. Some would argue it's 58. I think the number is more like 62 percent of the budget.
SHERWOODHalf the budget.
RENNEAt least half, more than half. They are two-thirds of the workforce. But, again, I am gonna suggest and continue to maintain that I believe there's cost savings to be had before you start hurting workers...
SHERWOODThere's a view that some people have in the nation, in all these battles across the country, either that unions are under our sought and that they're being, you know, balanced of budgets on the back of their poorest workers. And then there's -- the other view is that unions have had a -- almost gravy training rod for decades and it's time for them to recognize that these governments cannot afford the expensive pensions and the health care and the work rules and the salaries. Obviously, I know which side you're on on that argument, but it seems to me that unions across the country are in trouble now, unlike any time in my life history as a professional reporter.
RENNEUnions are under attack. That's clear. And I would suggest that there is a conscientious strategy that's been implemented by the right-wing zealots in this country to weaken public sector unions. That's clear. I'm...
SHERWOODYou're not calling Ike Leggett a right-wing zealot.
RENNENo. No, no, no, I'm not. But, you know, look what happened in the last election cycle. The Democrats lost many governorships. We lost many State Houses. And they've been replaced by the right-wing fringe of the Republican Party, who believe that their way to monopolize even more of the political footprint, if you will, is to weaken the public sector unions. Why, because we have the highest concentration of union members in the country.
SHERWOODRight. The private sector unions are not doing so well.
RENNEPrivate sector is down to about 7 percent. Six, you know, whatever number is the actual number these days. It's around 7 percent. But in the public sector, we're at 38 percent.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Gino Renne -- he is president of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization in Montgomery County -- and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, if you have a question or comment for Mr. Renne. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet @kojoshow. More specifically, there's a case playing out in court that directly involves the other piece of this puzzle that you and Tom we're just discussing, and that is your power in collective bargaining.
NNAMDIA county judge ruling last week that the county executive is not required to support a budget if the executive opposes it even if that budget is the result of a collective bargaining agreement and it was approved by a labor arbitrator. What's your opinion of that ruling and what do you think is at stake in the long term? The county judge says that the first priority of the county executive has to be his constituents. It cannot be a collective bargaining agreement.
RENNEWell, I believe the decision is flawed, and it's a matter of interpretation of the law. This particular judge felt that his interpretation was consistent with the reading of the law. I suspect that decision will be challenged. That decision was handed down through a FOP challenge of Leggett's decision. We, as you know, have a challenge pending as well. Our laws are written a little differently. I don't know if that gives us any more clarity on the outcome or not, but I can say to you that we're not just gonna take a first level of the judicial system decision and stop there. We'll, obviously, you have to appeal this through the courts and see what the final outcome is.
SHERWOODThe fundamental issue is that whatever agreements a government has made, whether it's contracts or wage agreements, that if the economy if the fiscal health of the government is in danger, it has a right to change. I mean, some contractors learn that the hard way.
RENNEYeah. Any contract, I suspect, there's ways out of just about any contract. There could be consequences and penalties, of course, but let's be clear on what the issue is. In our particular case, our union, I put $25 million worth of savings on the table. We weren't asking for a dime. When we began negotiations in November, I -- first thing I asked the executive's team, how much money do you think you'll have to save from our contracts, local 1994? They gave me an arbitrary number, which turned out to be exaggerated, which is no surprise to me.
RENNEBut, in any event, I didn't argue over the number. I went back and worked with my 38-member bargaining team and took that to the membership, and they said, okay, see if we can help save the money 'cause we felt there would be a long-term advantage to doing so. And we did that. We did that. We put 25 million hard dollars worth of savings on the table, but it wasn't good enough for this executive.
SHERWOODI think Mr. Leggett says the numbers aren't that hard, that good intentions won't save them money, and you can't budget on money that you hoped to have. You have to do it on revenues you expect to have.
RENNEThese were hard dollars, Tom.
SHERWOODThese are hardcore, hard dollars.
RENNEOne of the proposals was to, for one year, to suspend the county's contributions into our pension plan for one year. And we would continue to make our contributions and we would forfeit...
SHERWOODHow much money would that be?
RENNESeventeen million dollars.
NNAMDIWell, gentlemen, put your headsets on because we're going to Natalie in Washington, D.C. Natalie, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
NATALIEGood afternoon. Thanks for taking my call. I wanted to ask about the employee's share of health care. Certainly, I understand that people have limited income, and we don't wanna be making decisions any harder for families. On the other hand, we saw during the health care reform debates in Washington that one of the struggles was that people who have private health insurance seemed to think that the health care system works fine in large part because they're insulated from the continually increasing costs.
NATALIEAnd so while there is the pocketbook side of the issue, isn't there also some benefits to having people be aware, be more aware of the true cost of health care and might that not help us contain those costs down the road if people were realizing what this really costs.
NNAMDIAnd, Natalie and Gino Renne, allow me to add this email from Jack in Silver Spring. "Your guest must recognize that his member-spending capacity is or should be a function of that of the rest of us who have less. I'm personally bluer than blue, but everyone must participate in the pain. Who, these days, does not have to pay something toward his or her health care?"
RENNEBut that's assuming that we don't pay. We pay 20 percent of premiums plus out-of-pocket deductibles. We're not out of line. When you compare us to other public sector jurisdictions in the state of Maryland, the average that public employees pay is 22 percent. So we're in line.
NNAMDILet me take it statewide for a second because you have a...
SHERWOODDid we answer Natalie's?
NNAMDIGo ahead. Natalie's question. I thought Natalie's question was similar.
SHERWOODOkay. It was a similar question.
RENNEYes. Natalie, this is Gino. What I would say about health care in general is that until the federal government develops the political will and wisdom to get involved in this issue and help balance the expense cost of health care, we're gonna continue to have a struggle.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Natalie. How about what's going on at the statewide level? At the end of the general assembly session, Washington Post reported that Maryland preserves a defined benefit pension for state employees by raising employee contributions from five to seven percent, monthly premiums for health insurance rise from 20 to 25 percent and the co-pay system is maintained. State employees hired after July 1st will be vested in the retirement plan after 10 years, instead of five years. What does your union think about that?
RENNEIn our proposals, we put similar initiatives on the table. I was clear with the executive. I said, look, let's buy ourselves some time. We'll give you 17 million plus up to 25 million in FY 12, and then we'll immediately start discussing and exploring other cost-containment and savings issues because that's important because cost-containment does not do anything -- I mean, I'm sorry -- cost-shifting does not do anything vis-à-vis cost-containment. And I'm prepared, our members are prepared to have a serious conversation on what changes need to be made in the pension plan to reduce the employer's contribution, and we're also prepared to have a serious conversation about what changes need to be made in the health care to bend the inflation curve. We're prepared to have those conversations.
NNAMDIOK. Here is Mark in Annandale, Va. Mark, your turn.
MARKYeah. I'm just really tired of people beating up on public employees saying we make so much money. It's just a farce. And the benefits package is -- county employees, a very small percentage get a real pension plan. Most of us have one of these 401 things just like everybody else. It's just makes no sense. It's outrageous.
SHERWOODDo you think Ike Leggett is beating up on the employees or you're just talking in general about whoever is beating up everyone?
MARKI think he's following the trend that everybody else is following. He's -- I mean, I can't -- he's saying that, yeah, we -- that these costs are unsustainable. Well, county want and residents want all these services and they want a well-qualified workforce. Well, you can't get that for nothing...
MARK...and to say it's unsustainable, it's just -- it's nonsense.
NNAMDIRaise taxes more? Should taxes be raised?
MARKSure. Why not?
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Gino Renne?
RENNEI think that revenue enhancements are needed both on a local state and national level. That's -- see, that's part of the challenge, and his point is the point. The taxpayers expect quality services in Montgomery County, and you start ratcheting back the compensation packages of the employees that provide those services, guess what's gonna happen. There's gonna be a noticeable erosion in the quality of those services. You pay what you get. You get what you pay for.
NNAMDIOK. Here is John in Germantown, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi. Thanks. I'm a Montgomery County taxpayer. And two points. Number one, as the prior caller said, the services that are offered in Montgomery County are truly unrealistic. They are -- they just can't be sustained and that needs to be looked at. And, number two, I'm a nurse and I sat at a collective bargaining table and negotiated with hospitals. And as service workers, health care workers, a hospital or county, municipality or a city, they will take advantage of nurses as much as they can primarily because they view them as majority are female with second incomes, and that's not needed. They don't need to make the same as what predominantly a male field would make, and that's not true.
JOHNSo I support greatly what the union has renegotiated with the county and urge the county to negotiate with the union and work with them more.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Care to pontificate or prognosticate, (laugh) Gino Renne, about how this is all...
SHERWOODPlease don't pontificate. (laugh) We leave that to Kojo.
NNAMDIWe do that ourselves. What's your...
RENNEYou guys do a good job.
NNAMDIWhat's your prognosis about how all of this is gonna turn out?
RENNEWell, my -- or my hope, I guess, is that reasonable minds prevail. There are alternative choices that we can pursue to get our arms around spurring health care cost. There are alternatives that we can pursue to work towards reducing the liability in the pension fund. We can do that. We're prepared to do that. What we are having trouble with is the lack of a reasonable conversation in that regard.
SHERWOODWell, when Ike Leggett ran for county executive, did your union's legal wing support him?
RENNEYeah, the first round above my objection, yes, they did.
SHERWOODSo you are worried about him even before he got...
RENNEAbsolutely. He's an individual that could not make tough choices. He does not like to collaborate with his workers and, quite frankly, that has created a significant void in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Gino Renne is president...
SHERWOODBut we're just getting to the good part. (laugh)
NNAMDI...president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994, Municipal and County Government Employees Organization. He says that reasonable minds should prevail. Let the record show that Tom Sherwood and I are opposed to reasonable minds ever prevailing because then we'd be out of work completely. Thank you very much for joining us.
RENNEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIThis is the Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, in your column for The Current Newspapers this week, you brought up Marie Drissel, who we remember from drafting...
NNAMDI...Anthony Williams back in 1998. Now she is opposed to the introduction of online gambling in the District of Columbia. She says, there hasn't really been enough vetting of this issue at all.
SHERWOODYou know, Marie Drissel is, you know, she helped bring Tony Williams to become mayor, the handful of people got him into the mayor's race back in '98.
SHERWOODShe's worried about zoning and lots of issues. But on this one, she just said, no one's paying attention to this. The city is about to do online gambling and they're getting all these excuses of how they're gonna raise money and do this and do that. No one is paying attention to this. And she thinks it's gonna be terrible that people will be going to -- there'll be bars and restaurants and other places all over the town where people, you know, in laptop computers, gambling away their lives. She thinks it's just terrible that it's gonna give the city a bad reputation, and she says she is out to stop it.
SHERWOODAnd I thought, well, she's kind of right. You know, this thing passed without any public hearings. Councilmember Jack Evans, the chairman of Finance Committee has now said he will, in fact, hold some type of public hearing or roundtable to even discuss this more likely in June. But, you know, the lottery board wants to have the free games up, a trial run in the summer.
NNAMDII was about to say, by the time he starts his hearings, it'll be up and running. And by the time it's up and running, it'll be very difficult to take down.
SHERWOODAnd the city thinks it can make, you know, in the first outing of this, in the 10, 12, $13 million and only the lottery board, it won't be any company could just come in and start a gambling (word?) it will be run by the D.C. Lottery. But, you know, some people are just worried about it. I think she's right. There ought to be some full public vetting of this even if we're kind of coming in at the back door of it.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of gambling, Elissa Silverman with us. She's a woman who is willing to take a chance by coming on this show, knowing that she'll also be asked about her social life. She's a communications...
SHERWOODI need to know more what that's (unintelligible). That's the second time you mentioned her social life.
NNAMDIWell, we'll get into that.
MS. ELISSA SILVERMANWell, that's terrific, Tom.
SILVERMANI'm just gonna jump right in here (laugh) without Kojo's introduction, because I think a major theme of my time on the show is gonna be setting the facts straight.
NNAMDICorrect. She's a...
SILVERMANSo I'm gonna answer Tom's question...
SILVERMAN...by saying that about seven years ago, I was on this program. I think that's the last time I was allowed on here. And there were some discussion about a meeting of the Democratic State Committee. And the resident analyst at that time, who was far-less reasonable than Tom Sherwood here, said that her life was just too busy and she wouldn't bother with going to state committee meetings. And then, Kojo and Jonetta turned to me. And I just said very meekly, well, actually, I attended that meeting because my social life really isn't too good right now and I had a free Thursday night. And Kojo just seized on that comment...
SHERWOODHe won't let it go.
SILVERMAN...like some kinda horror movie, Freddy Krueger character and just won't let go, which I think is pretty unhealthy, Tom, actually.
NNAMDIElissa Silverman is a communications and policy associate with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. That's a research organization that studies budget and tax issues in the District of Columbia. And on the social life part, I frankly don't know what she's talking about.
SHERWOODOh, but they don't just study issues, they support things. This is...
SHERWOODWe'll get into this. The only complain I have about the Fiscal Policy Institute, it sounds like it's some kind of bean counter, where in fact it's an advocacy group for better social spending on people who need social services.
SILVERMANOK. Well, I feel like you both are goading me 'cause Tom had this conversation with me a few weeks ago. And I do want to explain what the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute is. We are...
SHERWOODI think -- I thought I just did.
SILVERMANNo. Well, no, you didn't actually. That is -- we are part of a network of about 30 state organizations called the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative. And so, there are organizations actually in Richmond -- I think it's the Commonwealth Institute -- and in Maryland, and we do -- we study budget and tax policy. And we do focus on how budgets impact low- and moderate-income residents.
SHERWOODWhich is a good work. And who's your national umbrella organization?
SILVERMANWell, the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative is part of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
SILVERMANAnd we are housed actually within the center's national office.
NNAMDICan we proceed now to talk about the District's budget?
SHERWOODIt is an advocacy group, but it's a good advocacy group.
NNAMDIThere's a lot of talk in the Wilson Building about taxes and whether it's necessary to raise them on the city's wealthiest residents to avoid cutting back on services, particularly safety net types of services. A poll commissioned by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute found that most city residents believe maintaining services is the top issue here, not raising taxes. What do the data in this poll tell you about the choices the city is confronting right now, Elissa?
SILVERMANWell, let me talk about a few of the big takeaways, Kojo, from the poll. So the first -- so, just to clarify, so DCFPI commissioned Hart Research Associates, which is a national polling firm that does -- has clients that include The Wall Street Journal, that I know Tom reads every day because it's...
SHERWOODIt's The Wall Street Journal NBC polling that does.
SILVERMANIn fact, Tom is correct. As well as -- and I know this is a -- I think the last time I was on the program, it wasn't regional. So I'll try to have some regional references. But I think that Gov. O'Malley is also a client of Hart.
NNAMDIMy son used to work for Hart polling, but go ahead.
SHERWOODIt tends to be a Democratic-oriented, but it is a respected poll. We'll, grant you, it's a respected...
SILVERMANSo back to...
NNAMDIYou have appointed yourself self-characterizer of every institution that appears on this broadcast.
SHERWOODNo. Well, it is.
SILVERMANSo back to the relevant...
SHERWOODIf you checked, it is Democratic.
SILVERMAN..point here -- (laugh) so the big takeaways that Hart found from the poll -- and I just like to say that we released the poll as well as the Hart Research memo on the poll on our website, www.dcfpi.org, so everyone can read the poll questions. But the big takeaways are, I think, three things. Basically, D.C. voters prefer -- say they prefer maintaining services rather than holding down taxes. And it was actually 17 to 23 percent.
NNAMDIWell, I'll tell you what Jack Evans says about that.
NNAMDIHe says that you should poll the people who are likely to be the ones paying the taxes, the people who are making over $200,000 a year, and see how they feel. She can't wait to answer this.
SILVERMANI can't wait to answer this one, Kojo, because, once again, I'm gonna say, Jack Evans, Mr. Evans is entitled to his opinion, but not to -- entitled to his own facts. And the facts are that one out of four respondents to our poll self-reported that they earn more than $100,000. And, in fact, 11 percent said they earned more than $200,000.
NNAMDIOkay. You were making other points.
SILVERMANOkay. The other points being that the poll found that the largest number of residents supported taking a balanced approach, which is a mix of revenues and cuts, to balance our budget, and that specifically on the income tax, on Jack's point about the income tax proposal, which to be clear to all listeners is a proposal that would create a new bracket at $200,000 at a higher rate, moving up for...
SHERWOODOne half of 1 percent, right? I'm sorry. Excuse me. You're about to say that. Excuse me.
SILVERMANNo, it's terrific. (laugh)
SHERWOODI read your mind.
SILVERMANI must be taking too long on my explanations. And 85 percent of respondents to our poll said they found Mayor Gray's tax proposal acceptable. And specifically to Mr. Evans' point, that 90 percent of people who earned above $100,000 found it acceptable. And that we actually also divided the District into four groupings of wards. And so, wards two and three were grouped together. And I believe 91 percent of respondents in wards two and three -- Mr. Evans own ward -- said that they found Mayor Gray's tax proposal acceptable.
NNAMDIElissa Silverman is our guest. She's a communications and policy associate with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. We're taking your calls if you have questions about the D.C. budget, taxes or whether people prefer services. 800-433-8850. Here is Chuck in Washington, D.C. Chuck, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
MR. CHUCK BEANThank you. I wonder if I get list to the comment kind of taking this a regional perspective, you know, looking at Virginia jurisdictions. I know that Arlington indeed raised taxes to preserve some of these safety net programs and Fairfax and Louden didn't make cuts. And even Prince William had a 2 percent increase for some of these core services. And to Elissa here in the District, what does she mean by balanced approach? You know, from my perspective, it can't all be cuts. And it's not right that the cuts are almost all in health and human services. So what's the right path? And, you know, how would you define a balanced approach for the District?
SILVERMANWell, Kojo, first of all, I wanna say that I'm such a devoted listener. I believe this is Chuck Bean (sp?) who's calling in. And I wanna say that's a great, great question, Chuck. And...
SILVERMAN...and what is meant a balanced approach is that we look at both, a mixture of revenues and cuts obviously. We can't solve our problem with cuts alone. And we can't realistically solve it -- we'd love to solve it with efficiencies or with revenue, but that's not realistic. I think what we're most concerned about and what the poll also shows is that there are certain cuts that residents feel are acceptable cuts, that we can save money or go without. And there are certain cuts that are unacceptable. And I just wanna highlight a couple of those obviously. The number one unacceptable cut -- and this is no surprise to anyone -- is in education that, you know, was off the charts in terms of what residents felt was unacceptable. But also within that...
SHERWOODEducation? What's to cut in education?
SILVERMANWell, I believe there is a little reduction in education in the budget -- in that proposed budget.
SHERWOODBecause? Well, the mayor gave them $75 million of the new revenue from this spring. He was bragging about that on this show a couple of weeks ago.
SILVERMANI think we're talking about, sort of, overall education, Tom...
SILVERMAN...not just DCPS.
SILVERMANBut we mentioned some other cuts that residents that were...
SHERWOODHousing assistance in homelessness.
SILVERMANExactly. Homeless services, services to residents with disabilities, folks found very unacceptable, as well as mental health services and, of course, public safety.
SHERWOODHousing trust fund is one issue on those...
NNAMDIChuck, thank you very much for your call. Nikita Stewart of The Washington Post reported that Ed Lazere, your boss, met with members of the council last week to share the findings of the poll and to push for raising certain taxes. What sense do you have of the politics that are at work right now and whether the hikes are likely to go through?
SILVERMANWell, we did. I mean, I just -- to clarify, we did preview the -- we invited both the mayor and the mayor's staff and the council to preview the findings with Hart before we release the poll publicly on Sunday. I think the Post had a story on -- Tim Craig had a story on Monday which, you know, basically said -- I think his take on it was that the council is deadlocked. You know, I think there is a fair amount of support, and I think that, you know, the poll definitely helps solidify that support. I think there's a -- we have, you know, some solid, solid support for the proposal.
SHERWOODWell, here -- I'll say it faster than she does. Here's the big news from today on Friday about this.
NNAMDIYou have become today's official sentence finisher. (laugh)
SHERWOODThis was rare for me 'cause, you know, as a Southerner, I don't speak that fast. But here's the deal. There's already been reports that Yvette Alexander, the Ward 7 councilmember, has said she now will support the mayor's tax increase. She had been wavering , on the fence, whatever you wanna call it, and just been pretty much divided six and six with what she might do. And now she says she will support. So that's good news for you guys, right?
SILVERMANIt's very good news. I mean, I...
SILVERMAN...I think, you know, Councilmember Alexander, she's looked and she sees that residents in her ward support services. They want to have, you know, street sweepers. They wanna have police officers. They wanna have good schools. They wanna have, you know, services for people with disabilities and homeless services and so forth.
SHERWOODDo you support Jack Evans' proposal to roll back parking meter, whatever the cost -- what do you call it -- fines, I'd call it. The cost of the parking meter, he wants to roll it back...
NNAMDIParking meter fees.
SHERWOOD...as much as $6 million.
SILVERMANSee, now, here's a fun fact that the two of you do not know about me is that I work for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, but I'm also a part-time graduate student in public policy and urban planning at the University of Maryland.
NNAMDII know that.
SILVERMAN(laugh) And, you know...
SHERWOODI hope the course is not as long as her title.
NNAMDII think she told me that in an e-mail. But go ahead.
SILVERMANAnd the reason I bring that up is because I took a transportation policy course last semester where, you know, I read about parking policy.
NNAMDIAnd performance parking.
SILVERMANExactly. And, you know, the main way -- you know, if I'm gonna go to Georgetown, let's say, and I wanna know that there's gonna be a parking space available for me when I, you know, visit all those great stores in Georgetown. And one way you ensure that is through pricing. And so for -- you know, we don't wanna have pricing so that, you know, people will just hog spaces all day. You wanna have -- you wanna know spaces will open up, and partly you do that through pricing.
NNAMDIWe talked performance parking on this show this week, and we'll provide a link to that show for those of you who are interested. Alan Suderman of the Washington City Paper -- and, by the way, you should -- I should mention that Elissa Silverman is a former Washington City Paper reporter...
SHERWOODFor "Loose Lips."
NNAMDI..."Loose Lips" columnist for the Washington City Paper. That was the context in which this whole social life thing came up.
SILVERMANYou really gotta get on Tom about this stuff, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd she's a former Metro reporter for The Washington Post. Alan Suderman reported yesterday that Mary Cheh from Ward 3 caught a lot of people off guard when she proposed a plan to save money by freezing pay for city employees. That plan got shot down pretty fast, but what did her moves tell you about the political landscape in the Wilson Building right now?
SILVERMANWell, I think it's -- council members are, you know, looking at our poll and saying that, you know, that residents strongly support services. And what Councilmember Cheh proposed to do is to eliminate the -- what they called the step increases, so the increase that people would get for their seniority. And there were three votes -- three -- one three, two against that. And the council members that spoke against that said -- I think Councilmember Wells said directly to Councilmember Cheh first, you know, well, is this money that you'd be saving going to be used to restore some of the crucial services that residents want?
SILVERMANAnd she wouldn't commit to that. I think it was seen as a move to -- Councilmember Cheh has said that she's reluctant to support Mayor Gray's income tax. And, you know, given our poll results, I think a lot of Ward 2 -- Ward 3 residents are sort of wondering why. But I think it showed...
SHERWOODYou don't think she should make her decision based on your poll, do you?
SILVERMANWell, I think, though, that she should, you know, listen to what her voters want and...
NNAMDIWell, speaking of Ward 3, here is Jesse.
NNAMDIJesse is in Ward 3. Jesse, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSEHi there. Well, yeah. I was actually at that Ward 3 budget hearing just recently. We had the mayor there and Dr. Gandhi, of course Councilmember Cheh. You know, and I asked -- I was concerned with, you know -- in the budget presentation, we were watching this whole PowerPoint, you know, explanations. Well, we're gonna hold our budget to this fiscal year '10 or fiscal year '11. And I said, well, what about human services, homeless services, disabled services?
JESSEWhat budget year do we think we're gonna be roughly equivalent to now? I heard it might be going down as well as FY '07 or FY '08. And the response was, well, it's gonna be tough. We all have to make -- we have -- all have to make difficult choices. I say, well, then why are two-thirds of the cuts falling specifically here? And, you know, I'm concerned and I don't...
NNAMDIWhy are two-thirds of the cuts falling specifically where?
JESSEWell, specifically on homeless services, disabled services, you know, employment services, which, you know...
NNAMDIIs that what your analysis tells you at the DC Fiscal Policy?
SILVERMANYes. Jesse is definitely correct. Two out of every $3 cut from the budget come from human services, and those services we're talking about, as Jesse said, are homeless services. There's a $70 million cut in homeless services. It would be eliminating cash assistance for disabled folks who are waiting to get on federal Social Security. There are cuts also to mental health services. So it's pretty devastating on the human services side.
SHERWOODEven Marion Barry is supporting limiting -- I mean, assistance to -- I don't -- TANF program.
SILVERMANTemporary Assistance for Needy Families.
SHERWOODTemporary assistance. I don't like to use -- anyway, he's even saying, look, five years is long enough for you to get that. And so he's supporting that. Is that -- are you guys opposing or supporting the -- putting the cap on those monies?
SILVERMANWell, our position on TANF is that, obviously, we want to move families to work. But we need to give folks on TANF the supports that they need, you know, and that includes literacy training. We need to make sure that parents are equipped to go into the workplace, as well as things like child support.
SHERWOODSo obviously you oppose at this moment putting the five-year cap, which is common, apparently, I'm told, in most central states.
SILVERMANIt is, but in other places, I think, you know, like the folks from Maryland testified last year. And they talked about the work supports that they put in place, you know, before they had a stronger TANF policy so that we could really move folks in a -- in the right way, from public assistance to the workplace.
SHERWOODOne thing that's in place right now for the current budget is that the city workers have a four-day unpaid furlough system. I don't remember. Is there any proposal for more furloughs in the next fiscal year? I don't remember if Gray had that or not.
SILVERMANI don't -- there is not a furlough proposal in the budget, as it stands. Yeah.
SHERWOODOK. All right. Good.
NNAMDIWe've got a lot of time left, but we've run out of things to talk about. What or what shall we talk about next?
SHERWOODOh, don't talk about her social life…
NNAMDIOK. We got a tweet...
SHERWOOD...unless she wants to volunteer.
SILVERMANI mean, we can talk about music, Kojo. You know, I do have some used...
SHERWOODOh, the Library of Congress put all that music out this week.
SILVERMANOh, that's right. I saw -- well, I was gonna talk about, you know, Kojo, always -- I love Kojo's tweets about, you know, what music he's on, like, oh, I got a cool cultural in track or something. But I'm thinking like White Snake, Motley Crue. You should really open it up to a broader range.
SHERWOODWe need music on this program other than your intro, ditty.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet. We noticed that there was a tweet flying around by Andrew Beaujon, one of the editors at TBD. It reads, "Wife-tech, to say she heard Tom Sherwood on Kojo say TBD stands for To Be Torn Down." Tom, that would be tbtd.com, which...
SHERWOODI knew I was gonna be criticized for not getting it correct.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Elizabeth -- Elissa Silverman is a communications and policy associate with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.
NNAMDIElissa, thank you so much...
NNAMDIMore on her social life later. And thanks to Joe Schrobsdorff for joining us in the control room today. He was our special guest. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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