Recipe for Winning: Promises, Promises

COMMENT

October 02, 1994|By BRIAN SULLAM

Here is how to win a commissioner's seat in Carroll County:

Complain about uncontrolled growth and promise the electorate that you will "control or manage" future growth.

Promise to control government spending and keep taxes low.

Promise to improve the county's economic development effort and bring in new industry that will pay huge amounts of new taxes.

Promise to be tough on crime.

Promise to end government by "the old boy network" of special interests and developers that now runs the county.

Promise to preserve agriculture.

Promise to eliminate the traffic congestion during rush hours.

Promise to preserve the environment by not building new roads.

Promise to follow the dictates of the people.

All these promises may seem a bit much, even contradictory, but they -- and many more -- have been made by the six candidates running for three commissioner seats this fall.

Four years from now, do you really think that the county commissioners will be able to deliver on these promises? If so, your address must be Fantasyland.

Politicians will say just about anything to get a vote. They are also skilled at telling the electorate what it wants to hear.

Politicians are not inherently evil. They know that laying out the hard and often unpleasant choices on important policy issues will be counterproductive at the polls. Voters respond more favorably to fantasy.

It would be nice to believe that elected officials will control future growth, but there are thousands of acres of residentially zoned land already available for development in this county. Even with the existing controls -- a master plan, zoning, various levels of reviews and limits on land recordation -- residential development is likely to continue at a torrid pace.

Are these politicians willing to impose unpopular measures, such as limiting the number of building permits or requiring that all infrastructure from schools to roads be in place before granting development approvals? Will they stand up to developers, homebuilders and hundreds of construction workers whose incomes will be affected?

Every politician running for office in this county includes preservation of agricultural land as part of his or her platform, but who's suggesting ways to pay for the purchase of these easements? Without money, the farmland preservation promise is an empty one.

We also have heard a lot about crowded schools, yet no candidate has offered a workable and affordable program to finance the construction of needed schools. It's easy to say that schools should be built.

Who will pay? Should the county wait for the state to provide the money, or should it start building the schools and then apply for state assistance? Should the county increase its borrowing or pay out of current operating expenses?

Should taxes be raised to finance the schools, or should impact fees finance school construction? Should impact fees be doubled or tripled to raise the amounts needed for school construction? How are the candidates going to handle the financing of a school construction program so the county's excellent bond rating isn't jeopardized?

Will adding another lane on Route 140 solve the traffic congestion? Is a new limited-access road the only way to keep traffic moving during morning and evening rush hours?

If the county has to build a major new thoroughfare, where will it be located to minimize environmental damage?

None of these answers come easily. It would be presumptuous (( to believe that any of the candidates have all the answers.

It would be refreshing, however, if the candidates acknowledged that the problems are difficult, and that, in some cases, the public will have to chose between two unpleasant choices: low taxes and crowded schools or increased taxes and additional classrooms.

When you get down to it, politics is selecting among a number of choices -- some with less objectionable consequences than others. Too often voters, with the encouragement of politicians, believe they will never have to make hard choices or they can have a high level of public service without having to pay for it.

Voters would be a lot less cynical if politicians abandoned this magical thinking that you can have everything you want and reduce taxes.

We'd have a lot more respect if they realistically laid out the choices and their consequences. A sober discussion might help rein in voters' inflated expectations. If Carroll voters want to make informed choices on Nov. 8, they'd better start demanding realistic answers from the candidates to the tough questions facing this county.

If they don't, four years from now they will have only themselves to blame for being so gullible that they believed the promises of politicians who were just interested in gaining office.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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