County Council Votes Against Reducing Energy Tax

In most contentious budget issue so far, council makes 5-4 decision


Published:

Via Montgomery County Council

The Montgomery County Council today narrowly voted against a 10-percent cut to the county’s energy tax despite a late push by many in the business community.

Council member Nancy Floreen had proposed a 10-percent cut that would’ve meant about $11.5 million less in revenue next fiscal year.

It would have followed similar cuts in the last three budgets to the roughly 85-percent increase pushed for by County Executive Ike Leggett and approved by the council in 2010.

Leggett proposed doubling the energy tax during the county’s fiscal crisis and bringing in an extra $133 million in revenue, with the promise of letting the increase sunset after two years.

But Leggett reconsidered the idea of letting the increase sunset, leading representatives from chamber of commerce groups and the building industry to lobby council members to make the change to Leggett’s budget.

Today’s council debate was likely the most contentious the nine-member body has had during this budget cycle.

Council President George Leventhal initially said the vote on the matter would be delayed until tomorrow, citing the fact that one member hadn’t decided and the council shouldn’t vote without a clear majority.

Council member Roger Berliner said the delay would allow the council to consider dipping further into the county’s reserves, a proposition he said would allow more budget flexibility.

That rankled council members who opposed reducing the tax, some of who said they would’ve proposed funding for other programs if they knew there might be more money available.

“If you guys have another $10 million you think you can go to the reserves for, I’ll take that money to go to class sizes,” said council member Marc Elrich, part of the Education Committee.

Berliner said he would’ve been open to more education spending if the Education Committee had pushed it forward.

“This is not about school capacity. The school system could decrease class size today,” Floreen said. “They just chose to spend their money in other places.”

Council member Hans Riemer then moved to overrule Leventhal’s decision to delay the vote. Council member Tom Hucker, the member who apparently was on the fence, advised Leventhal he was ready to vote.

The result, after a failed amendment by Berliner to reduce the energy tax by 5 percent, was a 5-4 vote against any reduction.

Council member Nancy Navarro, Riemer, Elrich and Hucker joined council member Craig Rice in voting against the tax cut.

Leventhal, Berliner, Floreen and council member Sidney Katz voted for it.

Nine business organizations, including the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, wrote to the council that the tax unfairly forces businesses with small profit margins to pay 20 times more than non-commercial customers.

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