By Charles K. Nulsen, III.
The advent of Discovery Communications moving out of Silver Spring and the discussion of attracting Amazon’s second headquarters is a great time to reflect on where we are as a county and where we are going. Montgomery County has tremendous assets. They include a highly educated workforce, good schools, one of the nation’s best community colleges, substantial wealth in some of our neighborhoods, low crime and virtually no public corruption. Few places in the nation can say they have all of these things. With all of those advantages, we should be a national leader in economic strength. But we’re not.
Why is that? For all of our advantages, we have a lot of problems and they are structural. And everyone knows that to deal with problems, you have to recognize them first.
We have a jobs problem. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montgomery County’s total employment grew by 3.1% between 2001 and 2016. We ranked 20th of 24 jurisdictions measured by BLS in the Washington area. In 2016, the state registered just 19 new businesses in MoCo. How are we going to create lots of new jobs unless we create lots of new employers? Ask yourself, with our highly educated workforce, why doesn’t one national accounting/consulting firm such as Accenture, Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG, etc. have a presence in Montgomery County?
We have a taxation problem. Over the last sixteen years, the county has levied five property tax hikes, two energy tax hikes, an income tax hike and a recordation tax hike. Raising taxes should be a last resort, but in our county, raising taxes is sometimes a first and only resort.
We have a commercial tax revenue problem. When examined over the last decade, the County’s tax base from commercial office real estate grew anemically by barely over 1% a year; and 75% of this growth came just from the Bethesda and Friendship Heights corridor.
We have a debt problem. Over the last ten years, the County debt has been growing more than 5 times the rate of inflation. In 2017 alone, our expenditures for debt service were nearly $400 million, a whopping 14% growth rate.
Our revenues are weak, our debt is soaring and our schools, human service and infrastructure needs are growing. How else do you explain an 8.9% property tax hike and a $120m budget short fall in the same year?
Here’s the bottom line: there are only two ways to pay for government. You can grow the economic pie so that everyone, residents and businesses together, can share the tax burden. Or you can raise taxes on residents. That’s it. Which one would you choose?
The good news is that election time is coming. Because our county is heavily Democratic, the next County Executive and County Council will be elected in the June 26th primary. Now that you know about our problems, take your opportunity and VOTE!
Charles K. Nulsen, III is the President of Washington Property Company in Bethesda and Co-Founder of Empower Montgomery, a County advocacy group.