Friday, April 04, 2008

Hypocrisy about Discretionary Funds

little-noticed by the blogosphere or the mainstream press was the hypocrisy evidenced by a move Tuesday where several PWC board members pledged money from their discretionary funds.

Now, we can debate the propriety of discretionary funds some other time. They exist, and let's go from there.

On Tuesday we had the annual "Say a program is being cancelled so all the people who love it come show their love for you and big government" event. Last year it was Senior Day care. This year it's the Office of Dispute Resolution.

OK, we'll discuss the merits of the ODR at some other time. But for now just know the program is IN TROUBLE. In fact, the board members don't know what to do about it, but in the meantime it needs money. A program that needs money -- a regular program of the government, a program that IF it is going to exist, should be funded by the government, but how will we fund it BEFORE we can work our way through the normal process?

Several supervisors decided that using discretionary fund money to fund a government program was just a great idea:

Supervisors who dove into their own discretionary funds to pay for the program through April said it would be difficult to cut programs despite the county's dramatic drops in home property values.

Who gave the money?

Nohe and Supervisor Wally Covington, R-Brentsville, each used $10,000 of their discretionary funds to put off a decision and allow the issue to be reviewed in the context of the broader budget at a time when supervisors are considering a 27 percent increase in the tax rate.

No supervisors objected -- not even Maureen Caddigan or John Jenkins.

OK, I'm getting to the hypocrisy. Remember THIS story from 2007: "Supervisors Spar Over Televised Meetings"?:

In what may have been a preview of coming attractions in this season of budget shortfalls, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors engaged in a spirited and sometimes contentious debate Tuesday before narrowly defeating a proposal by Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R) to televise meetings of the county Planning Commission.

What? The board opposed televising meetings?
Every member of the board agreed that they would like to see meetings of the Planning Commission -- and other county agencies -- on Prince William's government access station.

OK, then why were they opposed?

But what stirred the debate was that this would cost $9,000 at a time when the board is facing an $18 million revenue shortfall for this fiscal year and is looking to cut about $22 million from next year's operating budget.

Ah. A good idea for a program, but we just can't afford $9,000 to carry it over. But what does this have to do with discretionary funds?

Stewart had proposed to pay for the new programming with $9,000 from his discretionary fund. Usually such expenditures are quickly approved by the board. But Democrats Hilda M. Barg (Woodbridge) and John D. Jenkins (Neabsco), along with Republican Maureen S. Caddigan (Dumfries) raised questions about who would pay for televising the meetings in subsequent years and suggested that the cost would eventually become part of the operating budget.

Oh, so we can't let a supervisor use the discretionary funds to pay for a program if we might want to cut it later.

Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) -- who was elected vice chairman of the board -- said that he favored televising the hearings, but that he was concerned about "how it was brought up." ...
We need to figure out a way to get the thing as a budget item. I think we should take a look at the funding mechanism."

So, who were these "principled" supervisors who opposed using discretionary funds to pay for a program while waiting to decide whether to adopt it as a real budget item?

Jenkins, Caddigan, Barg and Nohe voted against the funding. Stewart, Stirrup and Supervisor W. S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) voted for it.

So, last year Jenkins, Caddigan, and Nohe opposed spending discretionary funds for a program that should be funded as a normal budget item -- but Tuesday they supported doing the same thing.

The dust-up by Marty and the three liberals in 2007 should remind readers exactly WHO it is on this board who is making petty attacks and nitpicking. Going after a perfunctory expenditure of $9,000 from a discretionary fund? That was petty, personal, and only done to attack Corey Stewart.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I would argue that Covington and Nohe maintained their logic. The funds for the office of dispute resolution are very clearly intended as a short term stop gap measure to keep the program afloat until it can compete with the rest of the programs and services in the upcoming regular budget process. The televising of the planning commission with discretionary funds had no such clarity. There was no plan for continuing the funding or the debate once the Chairman's discretionary contribution was exhausted. Further, it would have created an expectation for continued televising of the meetings, while Covington and Nohe were very clear that there should be no expectation for continued funding.

Charles said...

First, I would argue that providing funds to continue the program does raise the expectation that the program will be continued beyond the next month, and with real money, as the discretionary funds cannot fund this program for the long term.

On the other hand, not only was there no reason to believe the planning commission meetings HAD to continue -- in fact, I would have expected a survey to see if anybody was watching, to determine if it was worth funding.

Further, the money was for operating costs, not for hiring a person who would then have expected to remain hired.

And lastly, Stewart had pledged to continue funding from his discretionary fund in future years, which would have been easy enough as it was very little money.

In that regard, it was pretty much like a supervisor making an annual contribution to some other charity that provides some service to a portion of the community. Everybody expects that supervisor will continue funding the program every year, at least until they talk the board into taking on the charity with public funds.