Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gazette Letter: County, state, feds engage in wasteful spending

We are told that the federal government is $14-plus trillion in debt, and that the state of Maryland has a shortfall of close to $1 billion. One would think that with such money problems, the governments would be prudent and not waste money, at least not until they are once more on a solid footing. Yet, the extreme waste I see in one small area is enough to make one give up on "good government." 
Beverly Farms Elementary School on Post Oak Drive in the Potomac area has been leveled to the ground. At the same time, Herbert Hoover Middle School is in the process of being demolished. But, both buildings [are] substantial. They are constructed of brick, are well built, and can last another hundred years. I do not know how many other sturdy structures are being torn down to make jobs. Such destruction is almost criminal since the existing structures are solid and can be modified if need be. 
What has probably occurred is that under the plan to create jobs with federal money, that is, money borrowed from foreign countries, make-work projects are undertaken. How can Maryland turn down free money even if it is wasted and frittered away on worthless projects?Similarly, I see that everywhere in at least Montgomery County, serviceable concrete curbs are being ripped out and replaced — at great cost to the taxpayers. Check out the miles of Veirs Mill Road’s curbs that are being destroyed, The County Council says that curbs must comply with disability laws. But these curbs on the highway divider strips are not used by anyone, and there is nothing wrong with them. This may be an example of political payoffs. It is almost like hiring men to dig holes and others to fill them. Have politicians lost all regard for the taxpayers? They will certainly raise our taxes to pay for all this. 
Murray Katz, Silver Spring


  1. Folks - I generally agree with the things posted here, but the idea of stimulus is to get money into the economy. It doesn't matter if we pay people to dig holes that will be refilled, pick up money dropped by airplanes, or pay people to tear down schools and then rebuild them. Check this blog post from economist Paul Krugman.

    You may have preferred hiring teachers to tearing down schools, which is fine, but the politics put the money out this way. The goal wasn't to get a new school. It was to get money in the economy, so we can all be better off.

    John M

  2. @John M.

    The blog post was a Letter to the Editor of the Gazette from a Silver Spring resident.

    You may not be aware, but tearing down a school requires that the students be relocated during the construction. Displacing children is hardly the same as digging a hole. The costs to the students, families and community are important, and not part of your analysis.

    Lots of other issues come into play when MCPS tears down a school. For one, there is no zoning that applies and neighborhoods are losing their neighborhood school to over-sized buildings more in line with a commercial building than a neighborhood school. There's the resulting litigation - that puts lawyers to work.

    Your premise that jobs are created is an interesting one. Do all of the Capital funds go to construction contracts? We know they don't. We know there are chunks of cash that go out based on no-bid invoice arrangements. What the money in those deals pays for is unknown. We've posted a number of those transactions on this blog.

    Where else does the money in the MCPS Capital budget go? You might want to take a look and explore the reality.

  3. Hi - Thanks for your response. I really enjoy your blog and the work you do. I think it is a great service to our community. On this subject, we might just have to respectfully disagree somewhat, though not fully. I agree that the process of implementing MCPS capital projects needs to be transparent, involve the interest of all impacted parties, and fairly balance the needs of all stakeholders whether they have political clout or not. As your work points out, I don't think that happens now. I can also agree that there are other infrastructure projects that I might have preferred (say transportation). I disagree, however, with Mr. Katz's notion that borrowing money to tear down an old serviceable school to build a new school is a wasteful idea in this economy. On the surface it seems wasteful, but it is the best way to get money into the economy right now. During normal times, I might I agree with Mr Katz, but these are not normal times. My comment is really just trying to push the idea that we really do need stimulus for a broader goal right now. As for the problems around MCPS, you and I are probably more in agreement, than disagreement. Hope this clarifies my point. Keep up the good work.

    John M

  4. @ John M
    The practice of tearing down substantial brick and mortar school buildings in Montgomery County Public Schools has been going on for many years and has nothing to do with the state of the economy at present.
    If this did have anything to do with the economy then we would want to see exactly what jobs are "created" by these funds. How much of this funding goes to actual jobs?

    New teachers are "jobs" too, right? How many new construction jobs are created versus how many new teachers could be hired?

    Let's say MCPS is paying $3 million a year for Promethean Boards. That's a capital expense. That $3 million could buy 50 teachers for classrooms. O new jobs versus 50. It's a choice how the funds are spent. Just calling them "capital funds" doesn't guarantee jobs.


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