Sunday, November 16, 2014
Robet Neall Appointment Applauded
This is a Nov. 16 editorial by the Capital Gazette
When he met with the Capital Gazette editorial board before his election, GOP candidate Larry Hogan said that if given the chance, he would take a bipartisan approach to government.
Well, so far, so good.
Last week Hogan, now governor-elect, put former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall, a Democrat, in charge of his transition team's crucial efforts on budgets and taxes. Cynics would contend Hogan hardly deserves full credit for this, as Neall was a Republican when he was a delegate and county executive, and even during his first years in the state Senate. But those cynics would have forgotten the bad feelings Neall left behind in the GOP when he jumped to the Democrats in 1999, giving a less than tactful explanation that he no longer felt at home in his longtime party. If Hogan were determined to not ruffle Republican feathers, he wouldn't have brought Neall aboard.
But that would have been stupid, because both parties know that when it comes to the fiscal ins and outs of government, Neall, a Davidsonville resident, has one of the sharpest minds in Maryland. He's exactly the person Hogan is going to need.
The new governor is supposed to have a budget ready on Jan. 23, two days after his inauguration. And while everyone understands that this budget will be mainly a holdover from Gov. O'Malley' administration, Hogan has to get a handle on state fiscal policy fast, for reasons evident in the presentation Warren Deschenaux and his staff from the Department of Legislative Services gave legislators last week. The state is looking at a $300 million deficit for fiscal 2015, a $600 million deficit for the year after that — and the long-range forecasts show structural deficits year after year.
Neall took office as county executive at a moment when the county's spending was outstripping its revenue. In his four years, he abolished 440 positions in a 4,000-person workforce, consolidating six departments into three and privatizing some services. He also oversaw implementation of the voter-mandated property tax cap, even while arguing — correctly — that it was a fiscal straitjacket that may eventually hurt the county. Now the only person on the state Spending Affordability Committee who is not a current member of the General Assembly, Neall has decried the O'Malley administration's practice of borrowing money from special funds and leaving bonded indebtedness in its place.
In short, by making Neall the point man of the incoming administration's efforts on budgets and fiscal policy, Hogan is doing more than honoring his commitment to bipartisan government. He is showing he has an eye for finding the right person for the job. Neall's appointment is a good sign.