Barely four months after the election that was supposed to have thrown out the tax-and-spenders in Howard County, union members are imploring residents and business leaders to ask County Executive Ecker to tax and spend.
Ecker will be a hard sell; the county executive was swept into office, after all, by a wave of anti-government sentiment. Now, faced with dwindling revenues and simultaneously fighting to head off a taxpayer's revolt, he has announced a plan to cut the budget by 16 percent, lay off at least 200 government employees -- one out of every nine county workers -- and keep 100 currently unfilled positions vacant.
The county's unions charge that such deep cuts will compromise critical health and safety across the board. Ecker has responded with partisan finger-pointing, criticizing his Democratic predecessor, Elizabeth Bobo, for spending too much. But the fact remains, Ecker's plan will leave 300 positions unfilled -- one-sixth of the county's jobs. There is no way that many positions can remain vacant without compromising services.
Ecker's hope lies in legislative approval of a plan to temporarily abandon a state mandate for school spending which, in Howard County's case, is bloated by 6 percent raises. Ecker sensibly proposes that teachers' COLAs, like those of all other county employees, be deferred. Yet even if the executive wins this point, the anticipated $8 million in savings would help, but it would not close the revenue gap.
So it comes down to this: Do the people of Howard County want high levels of services continued? Howard County employees, TC who are fighting a personal as well as political battle, are fortunate in being able to appeal to property owners who can, if they choose, afford to foot the bill.