Oct 30, 2010

The Real Heroes

Who the heroes were at Wednesday's Lehigh County Budget meeting is a matter of opinion. Bernie O'Hare has always thought that Don Cunningham can walk on water. When it comes to Dean Browning, The Morning Call's Bill White now joins O'Hare in lavishing praise. I was never impressed with Don Cunningham. When he unionized Cederbrook, as his first act as County Executive in 2006, I knew he was not in the taxpayer's best interest. Although senior citizens will suffer from this current tax increase, that assault pales in comparison to eventually condemning Cedarbrook to Gracedale's current fate. Words and smiles come easy to Cunningham, and he has mesmerized both O'Hare and White.

I was a few booths away in a diner when Browning showed O'Hare the County Budget. Bernie was impressed with Browning's apparent due diligence; I'm not. When you can't find anything to cut out of a $390 million dollar budget, maybe you're not looking very hard. Easy Smile Cunningham keeps repeating that there are less County workers now, than in the 1990's. I'd like to know why then did he purchase the seven story Hamilton Center? Why do we need more space for less people? I know the pretense was the 911 Call Center, but seven stories? The Commissioners suggested an alternative budget with a 13% increase, instead of 16%. This would have eliminated one position and support for $350,000, and transferred $1.6million gambling revenues from the capital fund to the general fund for tax reduction. Cunningham made disparaging remarks about this alternative, and now we have the full 16% increase.

Bill White calls Browning brainy with guts. Only three Commissioners voted for the alternative 13% budget; Glenn Eckhart, Andy Roman and Tom Creighton- that took guts! These guys know that come election time, their opponents can say that they voted for a tax increase. They voted for the alternative anyway; They understand that 13 is less than 16. Dean Browning, with all his financial training, despite all the praise from O'Hare and White, voted against the lower tax rate.


Anonymous said...

MM -

While I understand Browning's criticism that the other commissioners need to be more familiar with the details of the county budget, the problem with Browning is just the opposite. Dean has become too immersed in the details and lost site of the big picture.

Yes, he has gone over the county budget (prepared by the administration) line-by-line. Yes, he has identified areas of the budget that (the administration agreed) could be cut. But he has forgotten that county voters - particularly Republican county voters - put him into office to find ways to reduce the size of county government, not to rationalize the budget as presented by the administration.

Browning as much as anyone knows this tax hike was a result of years of overspending and the failure of the administration and commissioners (including himself) to cut county government by the amount needed.

Dean would have served himself better by stepping back and thinking about the people he serves. Between the county tax increase, the school tax increase, and who-knows-what the Mayor has in store, Allentown taxpayers will be taking a beating.

Bernie O'Hare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bernie O'Hare said...

You'll notice that neither MM nor the anonymous comment here today or all the ones posted yesterday have any specific ideas on eliminating the $17-8 MM to produce a no-tax increase budget. Neither did Browning's feckless Republican colleagues. They all chose to instead just complain and whine.

When Cunningham said he could give them a budget that saves $17 MM by cutting all departments across the board, including the courts and prisons, you all scream, "He can't do that! He's scaring us!"

Oh, OK.

So you know what, how about a budget that sells Cedarbrook, even though that is a highly rated nursing home that actually might make a small profit? If you unload that, you could avoid an increase for one or two years.

"How dare you," huffs MM!

How about this? Reduce wages. Sounds sexy, huh? Guess what? Can't do that to unions, which make up 55% of LC's workforce. They'll file an unfair labor practice.

OK. How about the 45% nonunon force? That's a great way to drive them into the smiling arms of the union.

Now MM likes to paint me as a Cunningham cheerleader and it's true. I like the guy. But it is equally true that he is a Cunningham basher who has disparaged Cunningham since he's begun blogginng. MM doesn't like the fact that Cunningham can smile. Everyone is supposed to be miserable all the time, I guess. So if MM's point is that I'm biased and he's not, I don't think he's made the sale.

The simple reality is that there was no room for any responsible cuts to the LC budget that had 5 votes. Browning acted responsibly and resisted the bullying and threats from party hacks and bosses to turn this into a political issue.

Now Cunningham should have proposed a tax hike last year and did not do so bc he was running for re-election. He can be criticized for that. All along, Browning has been looking for and proposing efficiencies.

It's amazing that the one person there who actually knows what he is doing is vilified. And by whom? A party boss whose company fell for the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme? Who the hell elected him to represent the people of Lehigh County? Yeah, follow along, little lambs.

Baaaa. Cunnigham bad. Baaaa. Browning baaaaaad.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, i criticized cunningham for unionizing Cedarbrook because a union organizer tried for many years by vote with no success, until cunningham opened the door with a cardcheck. the organizer was my tenant for years and i was familiar with the situation.

i criticized cunningham for tearing down the linden street bridge because someone (asked that his identity be protected) involved with the project said that the historic bridge could have be saved at less cost than the new one.

i criticized cunningham for buying hamilton center, taking it off the tax rolls and on to the capital expense list.

i criticize cunningham for planning to tear down the walnut street bridge (reading road) instead of simply placing a weight restriction on a seldom used historic bridge.

I know of patronage jobs he gave out.. again, i will not mention names.

you constantly defend him by saying he makes everything look so easy; i don't consider an easy smile and silver tongue in itself good leadership.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, how about a budget that preserves public safety, cedarbrook and guts the rest. what does the community development department do? what have they developed? there is at least three other development organizations and departments in the county.

Anonymous said...

Bernie O'Hare said:

"It's amazing that the one person there who actually knows what he is doing is vilified. And by whom?"


Bernie -

By my count it is by a heck of a lot of taxpayers in Lehigh County, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike.

You can claim heroism on Browning's part all day, but please explain to me his vote against the 13% option. That option included cuts that were approved by a majority of commissioners, including himself. Instead, he took the easy way out to be able to say he didn't vote for a tax hike. Hardly courageous.

Ultimately Browning's fate will be decided by the voters of Lehigh County. Those who I've spoken to over the last few days can't wait until the primary in May or the general in November (if necessary, but not likely).

Bernie O'Hare said...

"You can claim heroism on Browning's part all day, but please explain to me his vote against the 13% option. That option included cuts that were approved by a majority of commissioners, including himself. Instead, he took the easy way out to be able to say he didn't vote for a tax hike. Hardly courageous"

The way it works is by NOT voting for the budget as mended, the original budget is approved. So voting against the 13% tax hike is voting for the 16% tax hike in this instance.

The reason Browning voted against it is bc it simply shuffled some needed capital improvements for a year, where they will still end up costing the taxpayer, and possibly more money.

LVCI said...

Page #60-- As far as the capital fund transfer.. The 2011 budget already has $17 million cut from there. How low can we go?

Pages #3&4-- Community-Economic Development
Proposed For 2011:
Out of $2,728,537... $618,916 is paid by local taxpayers (.56% of the budget).

About $4 if your tax bill is $714 on a $120,000 home.

The rest comes from special revenues

In other words county taxpayers get more then $4.40 for every dollar we are taxed locally

This was actually reduced by $62,457 in the 2011 budget

Problem is..
61% of the $391,160,143 budget is made up of "grants and reimbursements" OR about $238,607,687. That leaves us with about $152,552,456 to cut from. Keep in mind much of those remaining funds are required to obtain matching grants, etc. So we would lose a good portion of them.

If your looking to save an additional $19 million and since 61% comes from the "grants and reimbursements.. you'd have to at least factor in the cut in revenue from those "grants and reimbursements".

In order to make up for those loses we'd have to actually save an additional 61% (the portion from grants and reimbursements) of the $19 million.

So we'd have to cut and additional $11.59 million. For a grand total of $30.59 million.

So now I put it to you and everyone else.. $30.59 million.. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO CUT?

michael molovinsky said...

lvci, on your site you cited copy that the 2011 budget was about 20million less than 2010. now your saying that 17 of that was capital funds, so they only reduced the operating budget 3 million? i did study the city budget in 05 and 06 and followed some of the fund transfers in those years. in literature it would be called fiction or creative writing. this is a simple site; cunningham ate through the surplus, avoided a tax hike in the election year and now is raising taxes.

LVCI said...

Although I like the $20 million figure I gave, let's suppose I give you the $3 million savings figure...

We're still left with $19-$30 million to go if we want to achieve the 0% increase the folks down at the meeting wanted. If we only saved $3 million as you suggested.. then this will require 6-10x's more in cuts then the 1-1.5x's I referenced under the $20 million assumption!

I should also remind folks just because the budget's been "adopted" doesn't mean it all has to be spent. In 2009 Lehigh County spent $6 million less then they budgeted.

Nothing is etched in stone. If anyone still has ideas they should send them along to the commissioners. This could result in saving money over the budget they "adopted". The budget can always be "revised" to reflect lower $'s sometime in 2011. So the train hasn't entirely left the station just because the commissioners "adopted" the 2011 budget.

Although what we will still be taxed in 2011 cannot be.

Chris Casey said...

In the Army, we had a saying about stupid people. ""So and so is as dumb as a box of rocks."

I present County Commissioner Tom Creighton, whose campaign last year sent out THOUSANDS of MAILERS Touting that "HE HAD A PLAN" to prevent any tax increases.

Well Tom, where's the plan? In your Top secret bunker out there in Lynn Township?

Anonymous said...

So, after two months of scrutiny, there is no room for any cuts in the county’s budget? That is what you have to believe to support what happened last Wednesday.
This was an epic failure all around.
Scott Armstrong

Scott Armstrong

Patrick McHenry said...

Listen, it's not that they could only FIND $3 million to cut, it's that they could only AGREE on that amount. As long as the four Democrats vote lock-step against ANY cuts, it will be difficult for the remaining five to agree on what to cut.

The best part about the "zero budget" amendment was that it would have given both sides a budget that they didn't like. That would have resulted in all NINE looking at what is important to county government and what could be cut.

Browning's vote made sure that never happened.

The democrat commissioners and the democrat executive know how to play the budget game quite well.