Is It Fair to Attack Ross Arnett on Budget and Taxes? ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is It Fair to Attack Ross Arnett on Budget and Taxes?

(Note to readers. Because of my residency in Ward Eight and my relationship with both Ross Arnett and Rock Toews, I took the unusual step of sending the draft of this to each of them in advance. Each of them was invited to respond and Toews' response follows my piece. Reader's comments as always, are welcomed, if the writer is clearly identified.)

Is It Fair to Attack Ross Arnett on Budget and Taxes?

In a word, the answer is clearly no, it is not fair to attack Arnett on the budget. For other reasons, perhaps, but not on the budget. Yet that is exactly what his opponent Rock Toews is doing to Arnett in a campaign for which there really is no need for negativity. I was never going to write about this particular race until this negativity came out from Toew's campaign.

I have known Arnett since I ran against him almost three years ago (thanks to Josh Cohen) and if you talk with almost any civic activist, including Republicans, many if not most will tell you that he has been the most outspoken in favor of reigning in spending and sounding the alarm on our impending budget crisis. Since he was elected, he has become a valuable asset in that regard but it's Boss Moyer and her crew that run everything. Arnett is not a part of that cabal and trying to paint him as part of  "City Hall" as Toews has done, is misleading.

I have known Rock for even longer than I have known Ross. I call him a friend and therefore, it pains me to have to write this, but after receiving an attack postcard a few days ago and after seeing Rock at last week's forum at the maritime museum, I had to speak out because Rock is claiming that Ross has been part of the problem, which is wrong. Ross has clearly been trying to be part of the solution, but he is one vote--and he cast that vote against the current budget--which Rock seems to forget. He also voted against the aldermanic and mayoral pay raise proposals. If anything, Ross is too timid, too worried about being liked and too much of a diplomat to have stood up and pounded his fists louder. It took him a while to realize just how bad things were in the Ellenocracy but he has sounded the alarms and early on.

Rock turns to the tax cap issue, a real hot button item for sure. While Arnett wants to cut spending and has seen a big deficit looming, he believes he has legitimate reasons for not supporting the tax cap. Toews may think a tax cap is the great solution, but it can have disastrous and resounding effects due to the law of unintended consequences. The charter amendment as written, could be pretty scary if adapted, but I signed the petition because I think a referendum will be a "teaching moment" if you pardon the term. It's not going negative for Toews to point out their differences on the tax cap--in fact it is perfectly legitimate, but because one opposes it, does not make that person a big deficit spender.

While Boss Ellen and Finance Chairperson Classie Hoyle extol our bond rating and say that we are in good shape, Arnett has been examining and speaking out on the budget. In fact Hoyle signed her name to (and may have even written) a letter to the editor refuting Arnett's claims about our financial situation. Alone among Democrats, Arnett voted against Moyer and Hoyle's screwy budget. Do we need to go over the disastrous consequences of the porcine budget of the Moyer years to emphasize any more strongly how Arnett, perhaps only second to Stankivic, has come to understand the intricacies of the budget? How Arnett, perhaps second to none has been the most outspoken and active on reigning in spending?

Arnett is not perfect and surely Toews can stand him up and look at this rcord and point out the bad votes, but really, on the budget?

So why did Toews blame Arnett for not having done anything about this at the forum last week? Simple. He has had no involvement with budget or council or government issues for 18 years until just recently so he resorted to an attack mailer trying to lump Arnett in with "City Hall". Toews writes the following (my comments in red italics):

Ross Arnett was there and calls the borrowing of $5 million to balance the current budget a mere "accounting trick" (Uh yeah--Arnett was there!  But Toews at least did not say he voted for it--because he did not. However, readers may be "tricked" into thinking Arnett voted for it.)
Ross's "trick" will cost city taxpayers an extra $300,000 per year for 20 years. (Huh? This is nonsensical. Toews seems to be claiming that Arnett called something a "trick" and then voted for it. This is so misleading.)
Ross and I have had many detailed discussions about a variety of city and budget issues and he has candidly admitted to me that despite his decades of experience as a senior executive in Washington, training as an economist, and his work as president of the civic association that he had no idea what he was really in for when he became an alderman.  I hope that Rock is approaching this with eyes wide open.

I ran against Ross but there was no negativity in our campaign and the Eighth Ward does not need this. Rock is too smart to be doing this. If he thinks he knows where to cut spending--I mean really cut spending rather than just saying "tax cap" or blaming his opponent, then he should tell us, but I can only hope that he knows as much about that as he admitted to knowing about The Comprehensive Plan at the forum last week.



I made no personal attack against Ross. What the mailer clearly says is that I support the tax cap while Ross opposes it, which is true (in fact Ross calls the proposed city tax cap illegal). The piece also says that Ross calls the transfer of pay-as-you-go money from the capital budget to the operating budget an "accounting trick." The words are in quotes for a reason--because they are the words Ross used to describe this at his June 4th Ward 8 meeting at the Eastport Fire Station. I was there, distinctly remember, and the phrase is in my notes. This is important because what happened was not some trivial bookkeeping matter of shifting money from one account to another. When you move money from the capital side to the operating side of the budget it leaves a hole that is filled by issuing bonds. Borrowing money to fund daily operations is a bad thing, yet that is the exactly the net result of what was done here. My mailer then goes on to note that this "trick" (Ross's term) will cost city taxpayers an extra $300,000 for the next 20 years.

You say repeatedly that Ross voted against the current budget. But while this is true of the operating side of the budget it is not true of the capital side. You see there are really three parts to the budget, and they are voted upon individually. There is the operating budget, which accounts for daily operations. Then there is the schedule of fees, which sets certain fees for enterprise funds. And then there is the capital budget which is intended to fund major capital projects with bonds. The shift of money addressed in my mailer, and which resulted in the issuance of bonds to cover daily operations, was part of the FY2010 capital budget. How did Ross vote here? He abstained.

So was Ross against this transfer of bond money into the operating budget? Apparently not strongly enough to vote against it. On the contrary, at his meeting on June 4th he presented this “accounting trick” as something of a lucky break for the current budget--an impression further reinforced by his emphasis that it was a one-time solution for FY2010, and that the real tough decisions will come in FY2011 and beyond. And indeed it was a one time “trick,” because in talking to Tim Elliott the other day I learned that the remaining balance of $1.8 million in the pay-as-you-go fund had also been moved over to the operating budget. That’s right…it is all gone.
Anyway, these are facts and they all concern issues relevant to the campaign. There is nothing personal here. You may disagree with my opinions about the facts at hand but that doesn't turn my comments into some kind of personal attack. Is the statement that Ross and Dick Israel put out about Dave Cordle having a "fox hole conversion" on the city manager issue a personal attack? Of course not. Is your reference to me as "someone who has had almost no involvement in local government or civic affairs" a personal attack? I disagree with it but, no, it is not a personal attack. If I sent out a mailer quoting Ross at the Eastport meeting the other night declaring the proposed city tax cap illegal, would that be a personal attack? No.
You ask me to say specifically where I would look to reduce spending. With over 700 employees, including a bounty of department heads, payroll and personnel seem to be obvious opportunities. But everything would have to be looked at in detail. I guarantee there are other savings opportunities in a budget that has gone from $48 million to $86.5 million in eight years. Families whose household budgets haven’t grown by anything close to that in the same period of time are making cuts—because they have to—and the city should be no different.

Best regards,


Rock Toews for Eastport Alderman
phone: 410-626-1363

[CP Notes: I stand behind my comments which were mainly a revulsion to what I believe was a negative, misleading and unnecessary attack on an alderman who has worked very hard--and who did as cannot be denied, voted against the operating budget. Almost alone, and in defiance of the mayor and his party, stood up against this and we the voters did not deserve the tone and invective of your postcard mailer. Had you simply compared and contrasted and provided more positives about yourself, that would have been fine. In any event, I hope that you and my readers are pleased with the opportunity here for you to share your concerns about these issues in detail. ]

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Paul A. Richards said...


I am against a tax cap, for as you say, the unintended consequences.

And, I would NEVER vote for or sign a petition for any referendum. Teaching Opportunities are great ideas, in principle, but I do not trust the electorate to recognize the multi-iterative outcomes of seemingly simple questions. I am not saying that voters are not very smart, because some are very smart. But, too many are swayed by selfish promises of more services with less taxes. Hey, I like that, too. Others are swayed by political ideology to vote against their best interests. A cleverly worded negative referendum will usually pass. [I call a Tax Cap a negative idea.] Positive referenda are more difficult to pass, but the City Manager referendum, if it is ever submitted, may also be easy to get passed. After all, the call for a “Professional” City Manager means you are against a Non-professional City Manager.

That is why I prefer representative government. I think that we should elect bright people, who can assess the options and vote an idea up or down. If you do not like their votes, you should vote him or her OUT, at the next election.

As you rightly point out, Ross Arnett cannot be blamed for anything he did not vote for. By voting NO, or even abstaining, he is not encouraging an idea that he does not approve. Maybe he should fight harder against something he does not like. But, your reading of Toews’ inappropriate attack seems to be correct. Toews’ attack is WRONG and unwarranted! I am a resident of Ward 8, and while I don’t think Ross is another Josh – too bad – I will certainly vote for him, over this guy Rock.

Paul Foer said...

Paul--Thanks for the comment. Let me make sure I get this straight--We all seem to agree in the basic tents of representative government. Okay. It's called a Republic. But--explain this please--we the people are to be trusted electing good leaders, but we are not to be trusted with voting in referenda?
I have made the argument that Josh Cohen, for example, asks us for our votes, but does not sign the petition to create a council manager form of gov't that will modify the power of the next mayor. Somebody help me out here please!

Will Small said...

I prefer this type of op-ed journalism in conjunction with feedback from the subjects. It also utilizes a blog's superlative ability to convey this sort of back and forth. It would not fit in a newspaper. However this is where we need public conversations to go, transparency. I think it would be good if all our elected officials conversations were so open exempting national security issues. There is no reason why our representative democracy should operate in secrecy.

Also kudos to Rock for answering the challenge - that is what this was, a challenge and response, and a response was all that was needed to see that he has a reasonable understanding of the issues.

I appreciate Ross' attention to the budget however I wonder if he does not like the job offered himself up for. I have to ask him repeatedly to attend to me and often he does not seem to read an entire email and answer the multiple subjects I might write about. At the aldermanic level civil service is still self-sacrifice for the good of the community, and the compensation is secondary. I feel for someone who took that job unwittingly, but going back for a second term indicates recognize what's expected. In my last email to Ross I was clear that I expected replies about several different items and he only responded to one, and I await his follow-up 8 days later. I plan to roll the dice for Rock in hopes of better constituent services besides budget. He appears to have a good understanding, yet who knows what happens once seated. I respect that it is a tough and low-paying job.

On another subject,
To be fair to the recipients of your negative attacks on their english, you err'd on the side of error in some of your word choices. For example, what is a rcord?

'Arnett is not perfect and surely Toews can stand him up and look at this rcord and point out the bad votes, but really, on the budget?'

and what are tents doing in government? Is that what we're left with to house our government? Did we lease out the new state office buildings to drug cartels and corporate lobbyists?

'We all seem to agree in the basic tents of representative government.'

Thanks for the good writing and effort.

Paul Foer said...

Thanks for the thoughts and correcting the typos. It should have been tenet and record.

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