The Frederick News-Post this week ran my letter to the editor on the interaction between our county education budget and the state’s crazy, spending-ratchet Maintenance of Effort law. It begins:
County Executive Jan Gardner has proposed a schools budget more than $4 million above maintenance of effort levels. The key thing to remember about Maryland’s crazy MOE law is this: Once a county spends more than MOE in one year, it’s permanently raised the base. It’s not supposed to go back to spending less the next year even if its priorities change or it decides the added spending didn’t achieve the intended result. That means that more likely than not, the council is debating a permanent hike of more than $4 million that, ratchet-like, will be hard to reconsider later….
I go on to discuss the (far from robust) provision by which counties can ask for waivers, and raise a question I’m not sure the architects of the MOE (who wanted to insulate school spending from the democratic process) considered: what happens when the voting public realizes that spending increases operate as a permanent entitlement rather than an experiment with a plausible path of retreat? It could be, at least for counties with a vigorous pro-taxpayer streak in their electorate, that the equilibrium will be for voters to support less school spending than they would have been willing to try otherwise.