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Brochin promises but won't be able to deliver new schools, parks

Senator Jim Brochin announces his candidacy for Baltimore County executive. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

Your recent article (“Democrat Jim Brochin says his run for Baltimore County Executive touts ‘people’s message,’” June 8, 2018),” states that Jim Brochin would spend the county’s surplus to help pay for priorities such as schools, counselors and teachers. He continually campaigns around the county saying that he will use the “surplus” to pay for new school construction.

As chairman of the Baltimore County Spending Affordability Committee for the past seven out of eight years, as well as a Certified Financial Planner practitioner professionally, I would challenge Jim Brochin and The Sun as to what surplus he is referring to. According to the Office of the County Auditor report, “Fiscal Briefing – Overview of the Proposed FY 2019 Operating and Capital Budget,” dated May 3, the rainy day fund that we are required to keep locked away (even when it rains) is $207.2 million. Our total projected surplus balance including this rainy day reserve is $216.3 million. In other words, any future County Executive only has about $9.1 million dollars, above the rainy day fund, they can spend without violating our rainy day reserve requirement. In comparison, the average new high school (for just one new high school — Mr. Brochin has promised several new high schools) costs about $120 million dollars which is $110,900,000 higher than our real surplus balance of $9.1 million that we can actually use!

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If we violate our rainy day fund requirement or simply spend it as Mr. Brochin said he would do, our credit agencies will immediately downgrade our coveted “triple A” bond rating, assigned by all three major credit rating firms. If that happens, Baltimore County taxpayers could pay tens of millions of dollars more in debt service costs (interest and principal costs on our debt). It is also highly probable that Baltimore County will have serious trouble issuing any new debt at all as rating agencies will quickly conclude that Baltimore County has gone off the debt cliff — which is a dramatic 180-degree departure from our fiscally prudent history and reputation.

Our overall capital budget is also close to being maxed out now. The County Executive and County Council have invested over $1.3 billion to address our aging infrastructure, put air conditioning in hot schools, and solve overcrowding. While fixing our schools is a very worthy goal, and one that most county residents prioritize and support, the fact of the matter is there is no magical pot of gold that Jim Brochin seems to keep promising. Mr. Brochin promises many new schools and, at the same time, also says he will buy undeveloped land and convert it into parks. The problem with these promises is he has zero plan for how to actually pay for such commitments.

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I’m voting for Vicki Almond for County Executive and ask you for your consideration as well. Vicki understands the fiscal challenges and reality that we face in Baltimore County and isn’t going around promising the world to everyone. I’ve seen Vicki Almond make many difficult decision, and she is always honest about our fiscal outlook. We need to elect leaders to move Baltimore County forward not typical politicians. Vicki Almond is the leader that we need in these challenging times.

Tom Quirk

The writer represents District 1 on the Baltimore County Council.

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