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County Officials and Tough Choices

County leaders tell us why a balanced approach is needed to the ongoing debt negotiations in Washington.

Earlier this week, I visited Portland in Multnomah County, Oregon, for the National Association of Counties (NACo) Annual Conference, a gathering of 2,000 county leaders from across the country.  I met with dozens of county leaders, and was once again reminded of the conviction and guts that America’s local officials demonstrate each and every day in their jobs.

America’s county leaders are rightly proud of what they do.  Their decisions have a direct impact on some of the most vulnerable in our society, including seniors and people living with disabilities.  They manage some of our most basic services, often running the county hospitals, managing the jails, and directing local law enforcement efforts.  In all of these areas, especially in these tough times, these county officials are being forced to make tough choices, explain their actions to the public, and then move on to the next difficult issue.

They compared the choices we face in Washington to their own challenges, and emphasized that in their worlds, taking a balanced approach to any budget discussion is absolutely critical.  Here are some specific thoughts from some of these county officials on the ongoing debt negotiations:

Commissioner Sally Heyman from Miami-Dade County, FL
“Resolving the national deficit with a balanced approach should not be partisan-driven, but practicality-driven.  Then the President and Congress can refocus attention on the other pressing and important issues.”

Supervisor Valerie Brown from Sonoma County, CA
“The majority of our health and human services rely on federal funding... it is time for Congress to work together as counties do every day for their constituents.”

Board President Toni Preckwinkle from Cook County, IL
“I am very pleased that the President, in confronting the severe fiscal crisis our nation faces, has recognized that in our effort to reduce the deficit, we must take care to protect our nation's most vulnerable populations and that he is committed to protecting Medicaid for those in need.

Commissioner Jim McDonough from Ramsey County, MN
“In Ramsey County, we worked with all stake holders to balance our budget and have used all of the tools available to us: reductions, redesign-restructuring and revenue increases that are fair and transparent.  We expect our state and federal partners to do the same.” 

Judge Clay Jenkins from Dallas County, TX
“While no one wants to pay more in taxes, raising taxes modestly on income over one million dollars a year and ending loopholes on private jets won't slow the nation's recovery, but will help dramatically reduce our debt.  We can't balance our budget on the backs of senior citizens.  Besides it being immoral, there just isn't enough money there to get it done.”

David Agnew is the Deputy Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs