A Montgomery County Council bill that would increase income assistance to the poor has polarized council members over what some consider petty political rivalry.
At issue is Montgomery’s match of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, known as the Working Families Income Supplement, a tax credit provided working families living at or near poverty.
Reduced during the county’s recessionary belt-tightening, Montgomery will provide only 85 percent of what the state does in fiscal 2014.
Councilman Hans Riemer introduced a bill in March that would restore the match to 100 percent by 2017 and keep it there as a matter of policy. Councilmen George L. Leventhal and Marc B. Elrich, both (D-At large) of Takoma Park, and Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda have co-sponsored the bill.
They have met with opposition from Council President Nancy Navarro and Councilwoman Valerie Ervin. They said they support the tax credit, but neither is willing to sacrifice budgetary flexibility.
If the council approves the bill, it will set a precedent for funding similar efforts, said Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.
To get her vote, Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring, who chairs the council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, said Riemer needs to withdraw his bill and introduce instead a resolution expressing the council’s commitment to restoring the supplement.
Ervin also supported a resolution in place of legislation, likening the bill to the state’s education funding law, which requires the county to provide the same education funding, per student, as the year before. Riemer’s bill, she said, would create a precedent of walling off county funding.
But making it a resolution is replacing action with rhetoric, said Gino Renne, president of United Food and Commercial Workers/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization Local 1994.
“At the end of the day, you are either serious about assisting the underprivileged or not,” Renne said. “And resolutions do not guarantee those commitments, legislation does.”
Renne said council members spend a lot of time promoting themselves as advocates for core issues, but whenever legislation is introduced to address one of those issues, suddenly their support is gone.
“This council just simply continues to spend its political capital in ways that are destructive to the community,” Renne said. “This should be easy. The council, for god’s sake, is exclusively Democratic and this is a core Democratic issue. And we are having a political fistfight over it? This is just petty politics. I mean, really.”
Navarro took issue with MCGEO’s criticism.
“I think it’s ridiculous to assert that people who are professionals, public officials, would have a little competition about who cares more about poverty,” Navarro said. “That is so pathetic, it is embarrassing, actually.”
Ervin said this is the latest in the union’s bullying tactics against her. Earlier this year the union called for an investigation of Ervin alleging she pushed for a no-bid contract with a developer.
“It’s getting kind of wearisome,” she said. “Of course a legislative body will disagree, but I do not think people have to be disagreeable about it.”
Leventhal did not see why the criticism by MGCEO has weighed on opponents of the bill.
“We’re elected officials. People are going to criticize us,” he said. “We’ve got to be big enough to separate one critical piece of testimony from the merits of the bill.”
Riemer said the comments are a taste of what often happens behind the council doors.
“Legislative bodies always have these disputes, it’s part of the business,” he said. “We’ll get this thing done and move on to the next thing.”
But what is not typical is the tenor of the discussions about his bill, he said.
“We have a little time, we can take the August recess to kind of cool off,” he said.