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Anne Arundel ballot questions

Anne Arundel County voters will get to decide on six charter amendments in November's election. The Sun makes the following recommendations.

For Question D

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There's something of a mania among Republican executives in Maryland for perceiving nearly anything as an attempt to usurp their power. Sometimes they have a point, but it would be harder to find a bigger example of wolf-crying than Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh's objection to Question D, which would require him and future executives to hold public hearings on the budget before it is introduced each year.

Voters getting a chance to provide formal input into how their money is spent? The horror!

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Mr. Schuh calls the proposal "legislative micromanaging." If the council (which is controlled by his fellow Republicans, incidentally) were telling the executive what to put in the budget, he might have a point. But requiring him to hold a couple of hearings, the input from which he can choose to ignore if he sees fit, is hardly onerous. The council is already required to hold public hearings, but the opportunity for the public to voice its priorities is more important when the executive is deciding what to include rather than when the council is deciding what to cut.

The cherry on top of this sundae of ridiculousness? Mr. Schuh has already made a practice of holding such a hearing, following in a tradition established by his predecessor, Laura Neuman.

Against Question C

Anne Arundel's charter generally requires purchases of goods or services of more than $25,000 to be competitively bid, but Mr. Schuh wanted to raise that threshold in the name of efficiency. He proposed increasing the minimum to $100,000, but the council shaved the figure back to $75,000 in the amendment before voters. In and of itself, the amendment merely authorizes the council to take such action, but voters should send a clear message of opposition to this idea.

The Schuh administration made a good case that the current minimum for competitive bids takes up a great deal of bureaucratic manpower and extends the time it takes to conduct business. Using an informal bidding process in which agencies reach out to at least three bidders, contracts can be executed in a matter of weeks rather than months. But that efficiency comes at a cost.

Competitive bidding for government contracts has many benefits. It ensures that taxpayers get the best possible deal, whether its for architectural services or paper clips. It allows more companies to compete for the chance to do business with the county because the opportunities must be publicly advertised. And it prevents government officials from simply steering business to their friends and supporters, or to those businesses they're more familiar with. That's a particular risk of informal bidding; purchasing agents will tend to go back to the same firms every time unless the law forces otherwise. It's human nature.

Montgomery County has a high procurement threshold — only goods or services expected to cost more than $100,000 must be competitively bid — but Maryland's other big counties manage with rules similar to those Arundel has now. Baltimore and Harford counties' threshold for competitive bidding is $25,000. Howard and Prince George's have a threshold of $30,000. They get along just fine, and so will Anne Arundel if it keeps its bid threshold where it is.

For Questions B and F

These are a pair of good ideas when it comes to making the operations of county government more efficient. One speeds up the effective date for appropriations made after the annual budget is enacted. Circumstances can change during the budget year, and the county needs to be able to react. But under current law, such appropriations are treated like regular legislation, meaning they take effect 45 days after passage. In the past, councils have dealt with this problem by enacting them as emergency legislation, but that requires a supermajority of five votes on the council rather than the usual four. Question F will allow the county to appropriate funds for capital projects immediately when a new budget year starts. Due to quirks of the council calendar and the legislative process, such projects are now delayed for as long as six months.

For Questions A and E

Both are basic housekeeping. Question A eliminates the requirement to update the county code every 10 years. It is now updated continually as new laws are passed. Question E simply changes the job title of the county's economic development chief.

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