A Good Budget And Shackles Falling To The Floor


Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in County Executive Steuart Pittman’s weekly email newsletter on June 20.

The Anne Arundel County Council approved a budget. The vote was 4-3. We had a press release ready to go about a 7-0 vote but amended it.

There is no difference between 7-0 and 4-3 to the operations of county government or to taxpayers, and the three who voted “no” are well aware of that.

The county charter requires that the county council pass a balanced budget by June 15, and until Michael Peroutka got elected to represent District 5 in 2014, both Republicans and Democrats nearly always felt obliged to vote yes on the final budget, even when they didn’t get the amendments they wanted. Peroutka announced early that he would never vote for a budget that funds public education, because he didn’t believe in it, and then when I got elected in 2018, the three Republicans voted no for the first three years.

For my fourth and fifth budget, we got a 6-1 vote, but this year I committed the sin of increasing some taxes and fees to cover the cost of higher police pay, and to shift the burden of development permits back onto the applicants and off of taxpayers.

My predecessor held a 2018 pre-election event at which all Republican candidates sat at a long table and signed a “no tax increase” pledge. They had an empty seat with my name on it, but I wasn’t invited. Had they allowed me to attend, I would have risen from my chair to explain why I thought it was a dereliction of duty to sign the pledge.

But I’m trying to get us past the political gamesmanship of it all. Our budget process is extraordinarily collaborative, considers all voices - including the ones who vote “no” in the end - and we still have the lowest property and income tax rates in the region by far. Hats off to budget officer Chris Trumbauer, who is always two steps ahead of all of us in the process, and his extraordinary team. It was another really good budget - if you care about education, public safety, the environment, health and fiscal discipline. And we all do, even the ones who vote “no.”

On June 17, I attended Governor Wes Moore’s signing of the executive order pardoning 175,000 Marylanders for possession of cannabis and paraphernalia. I’m glad I went. I had understood the rationale behind pardoning people for doing something in the past that is lawful today, but I walked out much better educated about the heavy burden cannabis policy has put on too many people.

I grew up scoffing at cannabis laws. I used the stuff, even purchased it a time or two, but I didn’t worry about getting arrested. The statistics I heard at the signing made it clear to me that had I grown up Black, my actions might easily have led to arrests and convictions that would have put my life on a very different trajectory.

The audience at the signing was mostly Black. It was advocates and electeds who had worked to make the pardon happen, and who will be working to get the convictions off of people’s records. They were gratified to finally have a governor who understands how the war on drugs was used to block opportunity for African Americans, and who is willing to push back.

Attorney General Anthony Brown, a man I have come to respect deeply in recent years, described that history in stark legal terms. When he said, “This morning, I can almost hear the clang of those shackles falling to the floor,” it wasn’t hyperbole. It was real.

And June 19 was Juneteenth. It became an Anne Arundel County, a Maryland, and a federal holiday in quick recent succession, because when we celebrate the falling of shackles to the floor, we create a future that offers liberty and justice for all.


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