Saturday, January 29, 2011

The State of the Union

"The State of the Union is strong." Those words ended the annual Presidential Report to the nation. Last year the address was delivered in a tense atmosphere, the mood of the Congress was divisive and Citizens United had just been decided. The battle over health care was still being waged and accusations were flying back and forth across party lines. What a difference a year makes; who would have thought after the November election with strong Republican wins, that the President would come at this speech from a position of strength?

In the wake of the recent tragedy in Arizona, efforts were made to change not only the appearance but also the reality of the mood under the Capitol Dome. But, as the President mentioned in acknowledgement of the pairing off of parties and philosophies, sitting together in a bi-partisan manner for one night is not enough. All must work together on the morrow. The words for this evening were not those of the partisan stump speech with a nod to every interest group which we have become accustomed to in recent years. This was a more substantive and serious speech pitched more to the American people than those in the room.

The theme of the speech was to look forward, expand horizons, and send a positive message. Here was not the discussion of doom and gloom, lost jobs and foreclosures, but rather a look forward despite the debt issues with a promise of uplifting solutions such as was done in the race to put a man on the moon. Instead of moving toward deficit warnings he promoted individual entrepreneurs and innovative discoveries. Mention was not made of the success from the automotive bailout, but a challenge was sent to the business community. He asked for a reduction of the tax breaks for millionaires as well as the oil and gas industries and for a commitment from the corporate world to train and employ more workers. Pushing the need for competitiveness for the US as world class economic players, he also encouraged decreasing outsourcing and bringing the jobs back home. In this challenge to corporations, he urged movement toward the industries of the new age, innovation and alternative energy options. In this down economy as corporate incomes begin to again rise, many businesses are sitting on large amounts of cash and are not spending to develop more businesses or hire more workers. His challenge was for this to change -- to both look forward and to prepare for future changes. Education, innovation, infrastructure improvement and technology changes were all said to be necessary steps on the country’s pathway to the future.

Some have criticized the speech for not being more specific on job creation and being too soft on the matter of broad corporate responsibility. With Bill Daley (who comes with major political and corporate ties) as a new member in the White House camp, it remains to be seen how many corporations can be brought in to assist in these goals. The Progressive community grumbled about the message being too oriented toward business and not leaning left enough in his broad message. Issues such as the environment and energy initiatives were overlooked. The lack of a strong call for automatic weapons reform was voiced across the internet. Some worried that his message was too centrist; however those who had previously screamed "socialism" had little fodder to for their messaging.

The President rightly stood up for healthcare and signaled his intent to continue to do so, even while acknowledging that some improvements could be made. He mentioned the removal of the small business vendor 1099 form requirement -- which has nothing to do with healthcare, but was apparently requested by the IRS -- and is seen as a welcome change in many circles. But Obama brought forward this discussion from a position of strength, not confrontation and used humor to push his message. Budget freezes and denial of earmarks were presented as a start toward budget reductions. Entitlements were taken off the table. On the war front he indicated that all combat troops would be coming home from Iraq in June, leaving only administrative forces in place, while in Afghanistan, he indicated that he expects to start removing some combat forces about the same time. The repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was heralded. He did not mention his inability, due to Congressional restraints, to keep his promise about closing the prison base at Guantanamo.

Much was made of the camaraderie shown in the Chamber during the speech which was said to have been interrupted some 75 times for applause (so much better than the outburst last year!) Despite the furor about the remarks the President made last year about Citizens United, Chief Justice Roberts did attend, along with Justice Kennedy and the Democratic appointed members, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. (Justice Alito was in Hawaii, and Scalia and Thomas were also absent.) Each of the Justices was personally greeted by the President as he arrived for the speech.

In conclusion, public opinion polls were strongly positive and said to appreciate the upbeat message. I would tend to agree with that assessment and feel that in this way the President has taken the message and the momentum, despite the opposition. In fact considering the negativity from the triad of follow-up critical speakers: Representatives Ryan, Bachman and former governor Palin, none managed to land a punch or make an effective counter-argument. Ryan was predictably wonky and dire in his budget predictions. Bachman had a garbled message, spoken while looking disconcertingly into the wrong camera, while Palin was mostly off topic and somewhat rude.

What do you think should have been in the speech, but was missed? Did you find it superficial or special? Let me know your thoughts here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Confluence of Images

This week commemorated the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy's inaugural address, President Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address, and the annual holiday to mark the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

All three persons are connected in multiple layered ways.  Eisenhower was President in 1954 when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education that 'separate' is not equal and ordered that the operation of parallel educational systems for blacks and whites cease.   Subsequently he ordered Federal enforcement of integration in Little Rock, Arkansas, and elsewhere when community resistance grew pronounced.  He was President when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in a 'whites only' seat on a bus and a little known preacher named King led a boycott against the city run bus system in Montgomery Alabama.

That became a seminal event in the Civil Rights struggle of the 50s and 60s.

While campaigning for President a young Senator, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, was more involved in attempting to convince voters that a Catholic President would not take direction from the Pope on policy issues than he was involved in the civil rights movement.  Yet when Martin Luther King was jailed without due process, Kennedy's call to Coretta Scott King and assistance in gaining Kings' release helped move many African American voters into his camp during the very close fought election that November.

Both John and his brother Bobby would become more involved in the movement, although reluctantly at times.

With the assistance of the Federal government, Dr. King was able to pursue his dream of a Freedom March on Washington as a symbol of the Civil Rights struggle.  Despite dire predictions of trouble and definite ambivalence on the part of authorities, the March was a huge success with a non violent and joyful celebration by an mixed racial audience of hundreds of thousands in Washington DC.  And this week we celebrated both the life of Dr. King and the words he spoke that day in his "I have a dream" speech.

The words of these three men, although they were unaware of it at the time, remain linked across the ages and continue to have relevance to us today.  Additionally, the actions of these men have influenced the "greatest" and silent generations, the boomers, the rockers and disco fans, the "gen xers" and beyond to the current era. Although I never heard Eisenhower or Dr. King, I did stand in the snow on the Capitol grounds and get to hear Kennedy's inaugural address where he spoke of new ideas and new service and gave a call to the nation to ask what we could do for our country.   Many of us were excited about the Peace Corps that came from that day and proposed Civil Rights legislation, started during the Eisenhower years, which became law under Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy was assassinated.

Susan Eisenhower wrote recently in the Washington Post about her grandfather's farewell address in which he warned against the "military-industrial complex."  His words were heard but not heeded.  He spoke of how we had gone to war with civilians producing tanks and guns as our car factories and machine shops were converted from domestic uses to serve the war efforts.  But in the 50s we developed the industries of war and produced cars and tanks, airplanes and bombers and grew a defense industry.  This industry once created, needed to be kept busy and a reason for a war machine and a permanent military was created.  We began to export war machines to other countries and a trade relationship and arms race ensued.  The way to be promoted in the military is to excel in war.  Should we not instead honor those who prevent war?  We have not listened to his warnings.

Kennedy's Peace Corps has lasted through the ages and his first Director, Sargent Shriver was just laid to rest at the age of 95. But the promise and trust of the Peace Corps efforts, as many generations of Americans who went into the world to make the lives of those in poorer countries better were cheered, was later counter balanced by US support for dictators and against freedom efforts in many places.  Our export of ideals is not welcomed as freely today.

Thousands joined Dr. King in the 60s as various groups held sit-ins, voter registration drives and marches for equality, especially in the South.   But after he won the Nobel Peace Prize and spoke out against the Viet Nam War, and spoke up for the rights of workers, fair housing and poor people, some turned away.  But his rules of non-violence and words of peace held true whether in Skokie or Memphis where he met with an assassin's bullet.

So this week we remember and we celebrate three intertwined lives.  It is time to re-read their words and to reemphasize some of their themes.  Do we have peace, justice and equality in the world?  Have we moved into a post racial, non violent brotherhood?  Do we each give service to our country, our county, our neighborhood?  Can we each work to make this a better world for all?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the aftermath of the tragedies in Arizona last week, President Obama came to Tucson and tried to heal a nation.  Obviously troubled, and working hard to control his emotions, he painted a picture of the victims and put a much needed human face on each person.  To him, these were not nameless statistics, but ordinary Americans doing ordinary things on a Saturday morning.   He and First Lady Michelle struggled against tears when he spoke of the death of Christina Green, (the nine year-old girl so close in age to their own daughters).  Members of the audience at the memorial service shared in these raw emotions.  He spoke of the need to come together and soften our voices and about caring for one another.  At a time when such healing words were necessary, his rhetorical skills were a balm for the wounds of a nation, one which has seen far too many similar sad scenes of mass gun violence by disturbed or delusional men with easy access to weapons of death.  As he indicated, this is a question that we, as a country, must address rationally.  He asked that we talk in a way that heals and not in a way that wounds.  Sounding at times like a wounded parent or a pleading preacher he asked for America to reach for its better nature.  Surely this cannot be too difficult for our country.

The attendees at the service were seemingly on an emotional edge. Tucson was noted to be reeling from the unexpected violence in its midst.  The President noted that he had visited the wounded who were still hospitalized and seen Congresswoman Giffords, who was looking better.  After he further indicated, that during this visit with her Congressional colleagues, she opened her eyes for the first time since her surgery, the arena unexpectedly erupted in cheers.  Those in attendance appeared eager for some good news.  There were members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican in attendance, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy and retired Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, an Arizona resident, and members of the medical team also were in the audience.   And like the audience, those in the Safeway parking lot that day reflected America.  Mark Shields, speaking on PBS News Hour remarked that only in America would a Catholic Republican Judge stop by to see a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress to thank her for her service.  She would be rescued by a gay Mexican-American student intern and operated upon by a Korean-American Trauma surgeon.  A former Marine colonel and a white haired woman would be among those who tackled the shooter.  It so does take a village to make a community.

The President also called for greater civility and more civil discourse.  Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.  Senator John McCain (R-AZ), in an op-ed in the Washington Post wrote about being at the memorial service and spoke about the correctness of the tone of voice from the President.   Senator McCain even brought out the Biblical "Golden Rule" as a basis for balanced discussions amongst politicians.  He urged treatment toward others to include empathy and mutual respect, even while acknowledging that he and the President have differences of opinion.

McCain indicated that he knew the President to be both a patriot and a legitimate leader and decried those who did not give him the respect due his office.  He supported these words of healing and urged others to do the same.  We do need more civic and political leaders to echo these remarks.  On the other hand, Sarah Palin, in a message that was tone deaf to the pain of a nation, chose the day of mourning to appear in a slickly scripted taped video to address the criticism she had received for the targeted gun-sight map of Giffords and her congressional race in 2010.  No one has said that she put the gun in the hands of a disturbed young man, but her words and actions during the campaign did coarsen the debate in the country at-large and at Tea Party gatherings.  Unfortunately to many, her words were seen as angry, self-centered, defensive and ill-timed.  Several elected officials in the Republican Party disassociated themselves from her remarks.  Ultimately, she waited too long to speak out and sent the wrong message.

Where do we go from here?  Do we look at sensible gun laws?  Unfortunately, shortly after these shootings sales of extended clips rose precipitously.  But really, even the police, who use Glocks, do not carry such clips, so they cannot be of much use to enforce laws.  Extended clips are not for self defense, they are for killing large numbers of people.  We need to restore the assault rifle ban and deny the use of these clips.  Will the Federal government assess the lacks in the national mental health system and push to enhance care options?  Will the states support such efforts?  The National Health care reform act is scheduled to be re-opened in the Congress this week.  This debate will be the first of many that may test the boundaries for civility in the Congress this year.  Let us all keep our fingers crossed. 

Please let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Right to Peaceably Assemble

In an act that stunned the country, an apparently unstable young man killed a judge, a nine year old girl, a Congressional staffer and others.  Several others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were seriously wounded at this public event she and her staffers held out side a grocery store in a shopping center.  This is a tragedy for our country.  However, as some may claim, this is not an act in isolation, as I see it.  This is an act whose flames were fanned by those in the Tea Party movement and by people such as Sarah Palin who suggested violent opposition if their side did not win.  She posted a map with gun site cross hairs over the districts of those opposing her Tea Party choices, including the Arizona District of Congresswoman Giffords.  She spoke of re-aiming and reloading.  Those in leadership of political movements have a requirement to act responsibly.  Interestingly, although Palin released a press statement decrying the violence, she did not retract her former call to action.

However, in a tragic presage of this event, during readings Thursday of the Constitution in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Giffords was the member who read the First Amendment, (also mentioned in this column recently).  She was exercising this freedom with constituents when shot.  (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.)

As a candidate, I have also greeted voters in public places and aided others with issues or held voter registration events in widespread shopping centers across this area.  This is an American rite -- meeting and greeting the public, exchanging ideas in open and polite discourse.   While discussion has usually been civil, at times although there was disagreement, it was in the context of a relevant debate. 

One major exception was a Town Meeting on Health Care and other topics held by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (MD 8th) last year at Montgomery College in Germantown.  Among the approximately 700 people in attendance were a few hundreds who indicated they represented the Tea Party movement.  Most were not from Montgomery County and several indicated that Chris was not their Congressman.  Many were rude and crude, ignored the rules of discussion established in the interest of fair access to questions and would not remain in their seats as requested by fire marshals who wanted aisles to have free access.  They shouted down speakers they disagreed with, spoke out of turn and attempted to control the message.  Were it not for the heavy security provided by the Montgomery County Police and Montgomery College Security, there might have been more disruption at this event.  This was here in civilized, Blue rimmed Democratic Montgomery County, not known for polarizing political events.

This climate, created by the opposition movement to the Affordable Care Act, (Healthcare) was fanned by those who opposed the President and funded by the right wing and business interests.  In the summer of 2009 and 2010, more events to inform and learn were held as Congress met with constituents.  Violence, armed attendees, and phrases such as death panels were used to control and stop real debate.  Many from the Tea Party reveled in their armed opposition.

The New York Times today discusses how the rhetoric does not occur in isolation:  Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics.

It is important to remember that sane people can see the difference between rhetoric and reality.  The psychotic do not and are often living in a world inhabited by their own demons.  They can easily be pushed over the edge by florid and irresponsible political statements.  Some, apparently such as the young man arrested here, are unable to accept any in positions of authority.

It is imperative that campaigns and elected officials understand that their remarks may fall on those who hear them literally and may move to act, especially when gun violence is encouraged.  It has been pointed out that the gun used here, and recently purchased, was obtained legally.

NBC's Meet the Press discussed this tragic event on Sunday's show:

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO.) said: (in a paraphrase) "we are in a dark place in this country right now.  The hostility is here and is present now.  We come together from opposite sides in Congress, but we need to see this as a wake up call."

Republican Raul Labrador (ID), who was supported by Tea Party members, said we have to choose our words carefully and need to work together.

Democratic Congressman Debbie Wasserman Shultz of Florida mentioned that at a rally in her District, political opponents said they will use bullets if ballots do not work.  She spoke about pundits, shock jocks and others who must start to turn down the rhetoric.

All of these statements reflect the right words, the ones we should be hearing.  Let the responsible dialogue continue.  Let our responsible leaders reflect as Speaker Boehner has suggested and: "consider an attack on any of our members, as an attack on us all."   As a country let us all reject violent solutions to political disagreement, no matter how partisan.

Each of us who are politically active can put ourselves at similar events as in Arizona, most of us in Montgomery County know our representatives, so we can relate in a personal way here.  I am certain each of you reading this can share with me sincere feelings as I voice sympathy for all victims here along with their family members.  What should we do to keep this from happening again, in your opinion?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The New Congress Has Come to Town

A newly elected Republican Congressman from Illinois, Joe Walsh has said he will refuse the "Government Subsidized Healthcare" offered to elected officials and will live in his office.  Does the Housing code of the District of Columbia permit offices to be used as living quarters?  He will earn over $170,000 -- shouldn't he be able to find a room somewhere in the city?   He says he was elected to come to Washington to fight "Obamacare."  Additionally, Dr. Andy Harris of Maryland, a newly elected Republican Congressman protested because he was not eligible for the Federal Health Plan until he was actually sworn in and would have to pay for his family's transitional coverage.  Don't you think he could probably afford the premiums himself, as he was a practicing anesthesiologist?  (Alright -- he does have five children, but really!)  He apparently has completed his staff appointments with former staffers for recently defeated former Governor Ehrlich and members of Maryland's small tea party unit, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun.

One can just about tell the party of a speaker by this phrase ("Obamacare") -- for most of America it is known as the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA).  Daily I hear of parents applauding the extensions for their 20-something children to be covered after college when necessary.  More provisions are coming on-line now including one that requires health care plans to spend 80% of their revenues on delivering health care.  As a healthcare professional, that is one provision I can applaud.  Perhaps now we will have fewer healthcare executives with $25 million dollar salaries and 100 million in golden parachutes coming from the premiums paid by hard working Americans.  Maybe now we will have fewer health plans being able to focus more efforts on denying care than providing it. 

The newly empowered House Republicans are posturing about reducing the debt, freezing the debt ceiling, and putting the government into default.  Can they really be serious?  Do they really know what they are talking about?  The United States is not Greece or Turkey and cannot be perceived as a country on the verge of economic collapse.  We have a gingerly expanding economy, Wall Street has seen gains lately, sales were up significantly in the recent holiday season and yes, we do owe a lot of money to international lenders.  So are we actually in a high-stakes poker game, trying to see which side will blink first and allow the middle class to eventually pay the price?  With luck, the Obama administration will let these posers self-destruct, call their bluff and not join in this game.  The Congress must act responsibly, regardless of party and increase the debt ceiling in March when it is again up for review.  The experienced members are saying that they know that this needs to be done, even as they are looking for areas to cut.  We may well see an early split in the GOP members -- the established party vs. the Tea Party members.  Even Congressman Boehner has said he knows that the debt ceiling needs to be raised, but he is not happy about it.  Maybe they will get serious and actually cut some of the earmarks which were proposed.  Perhaps this issue will sober up some of the more serious members, who were partying on their perception of power, not the reality of legislation.

What ever the 112th Congress will do is yet to be seen, but it appears that it might not be a model of clarity or consistency!

What are your expectations?  Share them here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Years Resolutions?

I thought about writing one of those columns where I make up Resolutions for our local elected officials.  Then, I heard that being done on NPR today and decided some of those choices were pretty lame.  Now, not wishing to fall into that trap, I am instead making some wishes for the New Year.

•    I wish that the, too late for them this year -- guess I'll wait 'til fall and renew my hopes then.

Ten political wishes below!

1.    I wish that the ICC Highway folks would wait until construction is finished all the way through before this toll road is opened.  (That would allow us up here in Olney to have a bit more breathing room before we become inundated with unnecessary traffic.)

2.    I wish that the General Assembly and Governor O’Malley can come to an equitable solution regarding teachers' pensions and find funding for the pension system somewhere.  (We absolutely owe adequate funding of promised pensions to our teachers and civil servants.)

3.    I wish that County Executive Ike Leggett finds some new businesses that wish to relocate here, so our tax base will grow.  (Montgomery County needs to shed the oft-repeated label of "unfriendly to business.")

4.    County Council President Valerie Ervin is wished smooth sailing in contract discussions with union leaders and hopefully will find the necessary pots of gold somewhere.  (I know the Executive negotiates and the Council ratifies, but money is still required!)

5.    Newly elected Council members are wished well for this next budget season (advice will be freely offered -- stay tuned, guys.)   {Old timers on the Council are also wished success, you're not forgotten!}

6.    After a quite contentious election for some, which has now quieted down, I wish the Montgomery County delegation success in Annapolis in the 2011 session. (Several of our Delegates and Senators are moving into Leadership roles, so we should expect to see some progress on progressive issues, folks,  i.e. wind power, campaign finance reform, health care for all!)

7.    I wish that the newly elected Tea Party Republicans will read the complete Constitution and the Bill of Rights before they take office with the intention to undo these hard won freedoms.  (Don't you know -- freedom of speech, assembly, petition, religion, and of the press -- blogs included -- just in case you forgot.)

8.    Newly selected House Republican Chairmen are wished wisdom and restraint instead of partisanship hearings which waste taxpayers dollars. (Did not President Obama request that the Democratic majority not investigate President Bush and VP Cheney, but instead get on with the Nations' business?)

9.    I wish that the Senate will work as rapidly in 2011 as it did in the last two months -- this country needs some work done, such as Department heads and Judges appointed and laws and a budget passed. (Get to work, senators -- earn those good salaries you voted for.)

10.    As for President Obama, I have lots of good suggestions and wishes for him:

  • I wish that the Wars can be ended and our troops come home sooner rather than later,
  • that Guantanamo would close,
  • the jobless rates decrease and wages improve,
  • Health care for all expand and serve more,
  • the environment will continue to be protected,
  • and that the big banks work to really assist those facing foreclosure and try to help them keep their homes because a home of ones own IS the American Dream.
(I really would like to list more, but don’t wish to be pushy here.)

Please share your top ten or comment on these.  The wishes are obviously not all inclusive, just merely representational!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Year-End Ruminations and Looking at 2011

Happy New Year – as we welcome 2011, many of us are happy to see 2010 end.

Montgomery County has weathered some tough times this year. The year started out promisingly as the county volunteer corps worked hard to involve residents in service to others. A record amount of food was collected for county food banks and volunteers helped in service hours. Many youth volunteers participated in events around the Dr. Martin Luther King birthday commemorative celebrations.

The "snowmageddon" experience set the tone for the winter months, as residents dug out from back-to-back record snowfalls for totals of more than four feet in many areas. Large numbers of residents also suffered from power outages as once again our power company was not up to the task at hand. The economy took another blow as county commerce, education and business services ground to a halt for more than a week in February. Some faulted the snow removal, (and many did wait several days -- especially in the upper county -- to be released from their cul-de-sacs) but when the job is divided between, state, local and private providers, there is lots of blame and praise to be shared. Certainly the communication arm of the county government, once engaged, did a good job of informing the public. The county recently established an on-line grid system of snow mapping to track progress as neighborhoods get plowed. This will reportedly save much time for those who had only neighborhood listservs to rely on previously for news.

Council budget hearings brought no solutions to the problem of expenses exceeding income which grew worse by the month as 2010 moved forward. Projections of income spiraled downward as the year moved forward and belt tightening was required across all county departments. Education somehow thought it was exempted. Other county employees faced loss of expected raises, an absence of COLAs and future furloughs. Those under the education budget were not subjected to these restraints. Even though two-thirds of county employees (some 22,000 or so) fall under the $2.4 billion allocated to education, disproportionate cuts were required for the remainder of the 10,000 employees outside this scope. Waivers of the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) regulation were allowed by the Maryland General Assembly for last year when the budget cuts were necessarily so severe. This year the need is assumed to be just as stark, but the remedy may not be approved. Still, there remain many in the County who think that the non education department employees should not bear the burden of cuts solely. The Board of Education claimed that they could not disregard contractual requirements nor ignore the MoE, so they were unable to cut salaries or reduce ultimate costs at all. This year, enrollment has increased, so the educational budget has also been bumped up. This does not appear to be a sustainable practice, some rational remedy must be legitimatized to mandate savings.

Now we have the same Governor and state officials in Annapolis, the same County Executive is in place here, a slightly different county council and delegation were elected and the Board of Education shows no changes. What can we expect for this budget year?

Cuts of 15% are being requested across many county department budgets this year. The libraries and parks seemed to be hardest hit last year -- they can no longer bear the brunt of budget decreases. Where can cuts realistically be made? Previous suggestions of increased cost sharing and pooling of resources appear to be more necessary than ever before. Duplications of programs and services can no longer be allowed. Other redundancies must be explored and removed where possible. If the county is to meet the needs of public safety and education and the necessary social safety net services, each department must find some way to cut costs. Montgomery County has taken pride in finding solutions, paying for the programs it wants. Residents expect the county to solve all problems. Perhaps in the second half of the year the economy will start to turn around; however we do not have a crystal ball yet, in order to allow us to move forward without the resources. The warnings from the financial markets last year, about our lack of adequate reserves, should have been a wake-up call indicating that we must be more financially prudent. The financial plan put in place last year which gradually increases reserve set- asides should help, but it is not the only solution. We need also to better plan for the long term and for the rainy days. We should be able to expect the state to step in and help, rather than have the state pension issue looming as a threat to any financial planning.

Now that the New Year has arrived, we need to get to work and find a way to establish a budget which will make certain that the county's business gets done well. The quality of life issues which make this county unique and keep it such a great place to live and work in must also be considered by our elected officials. Can this be done without raising the property tax? Where should the money come from now that we cannot count on ambulance reimbursements from insurance companies (aka "ambulance fees")?

What would you suggest? Share your opinion here.