Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cut County Cable Montgomery

Many times, we have heard elected leaders complain that their constituents are quick to defend programs and slow to suggest cuts in times of deficit. Today, we have heard their pleas and are ready to oblige with a suggested reduction.

Cut County Cable Montgomery.

County Cable Montgomery (CCM) runs county television programming on Channel 6. Some of its work consists of live and taped recordings of County Council meetings, hearings and work sessions as well as town halls. It also produces nineteen regular shows and occasional department programs that are shown both on cable and on YouTube.

All too many of these programs seem to have a common primary purpose: making the incumbent office holders look good. Over and over again, politicians are shown prancing at press conferences, smiling to their adoring admirers and explaining why Montgomery County is such a wonderful place to live – under their leadership, of course. County Report, CCM’s flagship weekly program, is little more than a parade of such political frolicking.

Since incumbent protection is naturally the highest priority of all office holders, CCM’s budget has grown by a LOT. In FY 2007, its budget increased by 16.1%. In FY 2008, its budget grew by 13.9%. And in FY 2009, a year in which some politicians demanded cuts to employee raises, CCM’s budget soared by 22.9%. When county politicians discuss whether employee compensation increases are sustainable, why do they not also discuss whether their own televised glorification is sustainable?

Budget deficits are no obstacle to CCM’s relentless march towards bloat. In FY 2010, CCM added a new web producer position, its third employment expansion in four years. And its budget grew by $147,700, or 5.9%. That came despite the fact that the county had to close a $587 million deficit, cut overall spending for the first time since 1992 and cried poverty to the state on school funding. And while CCM’s funding was hiked again, the Cable Franchise Administration, which protects consumers from rapacious cable companies, saw its budget cut by 16% at the same time.

How bad is all of this? Compare CCM’s budget growth to that of the core functions of government. This is one way to figure out what the county leaders’ priorities REALLY are.

How large is CCM’s audience? That’s hard to say. On YouTube, it has only 82 subscribers. Its County Report show seldom gets more than a couple hundred views. Most of its other shows get a few dozen views apiece. When we embed County Report on MPW, hardly anyone watches it. This past summer, County Report’s June 19 show – which received more page views than any other CCM edition we posted – was tied for a rank of 281 in page view count on this blog. In other words, last summer there were 280 posts on MPW that received more views than the top-ranked County Report show. Is this what we have to show for a 72% budget increase over four years?

Just how many ribbon cuttings, back pattings, smile flashings and hand shakings do we have to see? CCM does not educate our kids, protect us from crime, put out fires, plan our land use or build our transportation projects. It is a luxury at a time when we can’t afford luxuries.

And so here is our message to the County Council: cut County Cable Montgomery first. Pare it down to the basics: covering council meetings and hearings, committee work sessions and town halls. Howard County, the richest county in the state, did it last year and still survives. We can survive too.