The other shoe fell in Montgomery County last Wednesday.
Three weeks after they were forced to withdraw a proposal to raise the county sales tax by half a percentage point because Sen. Hugh Farley and Assemblyman George Amedore said they wouldn’t support the necessary home-rule legislation for any tax hike, county legislators proposed a three-year hiatus on road maintenance and bridge replacement to deal with an expected $10.5 million budget shortfall. Ouch.
Short of raising property taxes by double digits, how else can legislators deal with that kind of a deficit? They could borrow, as state legislators like Farley and Amedore typically do instead of making modest spending cuts; but the county’s debt service is already roughly $400,000 a year. So they’re having at the budget with an ax.
There are two basic problems with this approach. One is safety: Roads that aren’t properly maintained are dangerous, bridges even more so. If motorists aren’t killed dodging potholes, skidding on ice and the like, their cars are going to take an awful beating. Therein lies the second problem: In the end, an austerity budget will likely cost taxpayers more on repairs to their cars’ suspensions, tires and wheels, or worse — in medical bills — than they would if the county simply raised property taxes enough to keep providing basic road and bridge maintenance or the sales tax by one-half percent.
People complain about high taxes, which is why grandstanding politicians like Farley and Amedore denounce them. But there’s no free lunch: People also expect their roads to be maintained at least well enough so that they won’t get hurt driving on them and their cars won’t fall apart. These hypocritical state legislators should either reconsider their opposition to the sales tax hike or be consigned to drive at least 25 miles per week on Montgomery County roads over the next three years.