On the night of September 20 the Silver Spring Civic Center reached “standing room only” capacity for an event titled “Town Hall: Taking Back the Budget.”
The panel of speakers, all with experience handling fiscal issues and budget priorities, included Maryland Senator Roger Manno and economist Dr. Heather Boushey, as well as Karen Dolan, who heads the Cities for Progress Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.
After an introduction by Maryland Senator Jamie Raskin, Manno took the floor. He explained that Maryland’s need for “safety-net services” is increasing while the money available for these services is decreasing. “We are heading towards an economic perfect storm,” said Manno, “and something will have to be done if we want to avoid this.”
He also pointed out that at present the state is unable to fulfill its pension obligations for the estimated 300,000 people who are eligible to draw a pension. “If every person in the pension system tried to withdraw tomorrow, only six out of every ten people would get paid,” he said.
Among possible solutions, Manno mentioned raising the sales tax from six percent to seven percent to bring in an estimated $700 million in additional revenue. He also mentioned creating a new tax bracket for the wealthy, a sort of “millionaire tax,” an idea which sparked a round of applause from the audience.
Dr. Boushey talked about the role the wealthy play in the current woes of the economy. She said that the tax breaks for the wealthy instituted during George W. Bush’s administration were supposed to yield new investments in the economy, resulting in more jobs, but the opposite happened. “We went through a huge experiment, and it was a failure,” she said.
Dolan emphasized the need to “bring our war dollars home,” a proposal that received enthusiastic support.
At the end of a brief question and answer session, members of the audience divided into groups according to their interests, including student activists and a group for those interested in working with religious organizations.
One of the attendees, Judy Miller, said she was most interested in “seeking budget sustainability without taking away from social services.”
Hugh and Diana Haskell, who recently moved to Bethesda from North Carolina, treated the various proposals with a grain of salt. “We are wishful, but not hopeful,” said Hugh. “We need to make a lot of changes.”
Mary Kiraly of Bethesda agreed. “I came out of concern for progressives not having a strong voice,” she said. “I’m disappointed that we have to keep fighting for the same things.”
When asked if the evening’s large turnout gave him reason for hope, Senator Raskin said, “It’s going to take lots of public pressure and our best minds at the national, state and local levels to deal with this deep recession, which has given us empty coffers and growing social needs at the same time. I hope that we will generate lots of meetings like this across the country.”
“We need to work like our future depends on it,” said Manno, “because it does.”
A crowd turned out to learn how they can work to bring financial stability back to Montgomery County.
Photo by Bill Braun