Task force needs more bite

Published 7:57 pm Monday, May 18, 2015

Big news in Washington is President Obama’s efforts to win “fast-track authority” from Congress so he can more effectively negotiate trade deals.

The big one currently on the table is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and fast-track authority would enable the president to negotiate with the 11 other signatory nations “in good faith.”

That means that when Obama sits at the table and tells America’s Pacific partners how trade would occur (America needs to write the rules, not the Chinese, Obama argues), Congress could only approve or reject it.

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By short-circuiting the ability of Congress to make amendments, the others at the table wouldn’t have to worry about Congress changing the deal beyond recognition.

Suffolk could also benefit if fast-track authority were given to its elected leaders on the joint city/school taskforce, the City School Advisory Committee on Collaborative Fiscal Concerns.

Feathers were ruffled recently when Judith Brooks-Buck, who chairs the task force, said she couldn’t give her blessing to a money-saving state program without running it past her School Board colleagues first.

So a representative from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy gave board members the skinny on energy performance contracting during their meeting last week.

The message: The program could support infrastructure upgrades by saving energy, freeing up money for other things; but it can also be a lengthy process. Members ultimately voted to support it, with one abstention.

That Brooks-Buck didn’t want to involve the school district in a major new program under the radar of her colleagues is understandable: School Board members like to deliberate carefully, as illustrated by 2013’s long debate over outsourcing to save money (which was rejected in the end).

But if the way the task force operates isn’t changed, it won’t move nearly as quickly as it needs to on some major issues it potentially has the power to fix. It won’t be operating with a full set of teeth.

As the situation stands now, City Council members Mike Duman and Tim Johnson can’t be feeling confident that Brooks-Buck and Linda Bouchard can take any action on the task force on behalf of their School Board colleagues. And if they cook up something with Brooks-Buck and Bouchard that their City Council brethren don’t like, the shoe could easily switch feet.

Obama and Suffolk’s representatives on the (inhale) City School Advisory Committee on Collaborative Fiscal Concerns all need fast-track approval, or something like it.