Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski got blowback from members of the County Council Tuesday over his proposal for an election fund for candidates, paid for by taxpayers.
Council members questioned its cost and the details.
Olszewski wants this bad enough that he took the unusual step Tuesday of going before the County Council in person to make his pitch. He told the council he wants them to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot for voters to decide.
It calls for county taxpayers to pay for the fund that could be used by candidates running for county council or county executive. The idea is to give candidates without a lot of money in the bank the chance to be competitive.
But Republican Councilman Todd Crandell said the proposal is premature. Crandell said the legislation does not give specifics as to how the fund would work.
Crandell said, “It’s kind of like we’re in a situation where, ‘let’s just pass this on to the voters then we’ll figure this out later.’”
Olszewski countered that they should hear from the voters first, before deciding the details.
“If they don’t support the concept, then there’s no point in having an actual program developed,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski also took some heat from Democratic Councilman Julian Jones for the projected cost to the taxpayers for the fund, estimated to be $4.3 million over a four-year election cycle.
“If we earmark $4 million for this, somewhere, whether it be a road, whether it be a school, a computer, somewhere we’re going to stop short and say we’re out of money,” Jones said.
Olszewski said it would be money well spent, and a fraction of the more than $12 billion in total county spending over four years.
Olszewski said, “It’s important that we tackle the influence of big money and special interests in our politics and this has been a proven way to do that.”
Olszewski said he is open to amendments to the bill that would create a fund paid for by voluntary contributions rather than from taxes. Council Chairman Tom Quirk said that proposed change would cinch its passage, when the council votes Monday.
“I think all the members support some type of public financing, it’s just how is it being financed,” Quirk said.
Even without that change, Quirk believes it’s likely the legislation will get the five votes it needs on the seven-member council to send it to the voters.
While most of the discussion Tuesday was about the election fund, Olszewski also testified on two other proposals he brought before the council. One would restrict a former county administrative officer or a department head from lobbying for one year after leaving their position.
The second would create an independent Office of Ethics and Accountability that would investigate waste, fraud and illegal acts in county government.