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Remarks on the FY17 Budget

Below you will find my remarks on the FY17 Budget.

I am pleased to support a county budget that puts education first and I believe the investment we are making in our schools today will pay dividends for years to come.

When I ran for county council i often spoke about how our County’s greatest challenges converge in the classroom — and in the classroom is where we can have the biggest impact on people’s lives.

I am motivated to public service by the core progressive value of creating opportunity for people regardless of who they are, where they live, or where they come from. And as a parent with a second grader and a rising kindergartner, I want for every child what I want for my own.

Having spoken with thousands of county residents over the course of three elections, I know that support for education is one of the characteristics that defines our political community here in Montgomery County – and there is broad recognition that our world class schools are the key to our success.

So really, I am grateful to have had the chance in this budget to help move us closer to this goal. I want to thank Council President Nancy Floreen, who early on established that this was going to be an education first budget and has ably led us to this result. A huge thanks as well to Craig Rice and the Education Committee for their work, as well our dedicated and extraordinary staff.

While I was pleased by the County Executive’s recommended funding level for MCPS, the fact is that his budget left a lot of work to be done — and the job fell to the County Council and the Board of Education to make the tough decisions about how the money would be spent.

And we worked together to make those tough decisions like never before.

Rather than a county budget that made no specific commitments about class size reduction or programs for the opportunity gap, we now have a budget that is certain to provide them.

Working with the Board to direct money to the classroom was a great test of leadership, because we needed them to be strong and they needed us to be strong. Thank you Mr. Durso and members of the Board.

Thank you to the union leaders who are working through this with us and the taxpayers who are being asked to make a greater investment in our schools.

And I want to thank my seven colleagues who stood strong and made this deal possible. Make no mistake, there was no other way to accomplish the symbiotic goals of raising revenues, reducing class size, increasing employee compensation by a sustainable 4.5%, and increasing county services, while getting the 9 votes required for the overall package.

We also took great strides in several other areas. We added significant funding to our brand new Public Financing fund for County elections, which will help get special interest money out of campaigns. We created two new County programs focused on promoting the growing Maker movement in the County and making STEM programming available to low income students. We are expanding Excel Beyond the Bell, the successful after-school program for Middle School students. We are adding resources for our public safety departments to keep up with growth and boosting other essential services like street maintenance, tree planting, and stump removal. And, as we do every year, we have added resources to ensure that there is a strong safety net for our most vulnerable residents, including fully funding our local match to the state EITC, which is a remarkable achievement. Finally, the significant increase in resources for Montgomery College will enable the college to provide more scholarships and targeted programs to help disadvantaged students succeed.

No doubt this was a tough budget and there are those who are disappointed. But governments have to make the tough decisions to keep the community moving forward, and that is what serving on the Montgomery County Council is all about.

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Riding into spring and the 2016 MoCo Bike Summit

Let’s ride!

We are gearing up for the Third Annual Great MoCo Bike Summit. Join us to assess the County’s progress on bicycle issues, get an early glimpse of future projects, learn how to advocate for change, and of course, network with fellow transportation enthusiasts.

We put together a short video previewing this year’s summit. Have a look!

We have a great list of presenters, including Greg Billing from WABA, Al Roshdieh of MCDOT, Dave Anspacher from Park and Planning, and others.

As is in the past, we will also be going on a (family-friendly) group bike ride before the summit.

Here are the details. Please RSVP, and mark your calendars.

Third Annual Great MoCo Bicycle Summit
June 18, 2016, 10am-Noon
Council Office Building, 3rd Floor Hearing Room
100 Maryland Ave
Rockville, MD 20815
RSVP Here »»

With your help, previous summits have galvanized support for investments in next-generation bicycle infrastructure. You are making a real difference. Let’s keep it up.

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Progress Report on Broadband / High Speed Digital Networks

As the County Council’s Lead for Digital Government, I have articulated a vision for a digital Montgomery County, proposing policies that will enable our community to lean forward on technology and innovation.

With the rise of cloud computing, there is great urgency for establishing next-generation data networks that will enable researchers, entrepreneurs and government to operate at the cutting edge. I believe our continued economic progress depends on it, and that is why I have proposed a comprehensive strategy, detailed in two white papers, “Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Networks” and a “Montgomery County Digital Infrastructure Strategic Plan.”

I am now pleased to report that we are making real progress. Working collaboratively with my colleagues on the County Council, particularly at the Government Operations (GO) Committee, where I serve with Chair Nancy Navarro and Councilmember Sidney Katz, and technologists in the executive branch, this vision is becoming a reality.

Years ago, Montgomery County made a wise decision to build a fiber optic data network, called FIberNet. Today, more than 567 sites — schools, libraries, rec centers, and government buildings — operate on that network. This is a remarkable achievement that puts Montgomery County in a leadership class of local governments.

Many years of constrained budgets, however, caused investment in fibernet maintenance to slide — a problem that must be remedied. With the new fibernet budget requested by the GO Committee and included in the FY17 budget, the county is turning that around. The $4 million annual fibernet budget, funded by fees on cable providers, along with a Network Operations Center, will ensure not only that the county government will get the benefit of a first class network but also so that the network can offer a market-competitive service for the private sector that can be used to generate revenue in the future.

Now we are ready to move more aggressively.

Building data networks for economic progress

The County’s economic strengths in the life, earth, bio and cybersecurity sectors are significant, and the presence of federal agencies, such as the FDA, NIST, NIH, NOAA, and others helps ensure that we have one of the most specialized and highly-educated workforces in the world. As the data-oriented (including real time video) work in these industries moves to the cloud, the county will need to be at the cutting edge in network capacity, so that the industries can operate seamlessly in the cloud — or the county will risk losing the advantage it has from hosting these organizations as they may shift investment to other locations.

In response to my first white paper on the nexus of broadband and economic development and the ongoing pressure of the Government Operations committee to move forward on this issue, the County Executive officially launched “ultraMontgomery” in 2014, and has recommended substantial funding for the program in this year’s budget. Key markers include:

The County is also actively exploring policy and regulatory changes that facilitate greater access to commercial high-speed networks, including new building codes and certifications for fiber-ready buildings, the creation of a Broadband Smart Map, and “Dig Once” policies.

Promoting access for residents

Broadband networks are core infrastructure, just like water pipes, roads, and schools. Government must take ownership over planning for the future of this infrastructure in order to benefit the residents.

Thanks to funding approved by the Council and with the reach provided by FiberNet, the County is adding 15 new locations with public WiFi and upgrading 17 more, for a total of 65. See the full list of current County WiFi locations here (page 6). At my request, the County has also agreed to make public WiFi available outside in the new Wheaton Town Square as part of the Wheaton Redevelopment Project.

To expand opportunities for people who ride buses, as well as make buses more attractive for those who otherwise can drive, RideOn will soon pilot public WiFi on a number of buses, as I argued for here. The pilot project will also test smart applications in the bus and shelter environment aimed at improving the riding experience and ultimately increasing ridership. These deployments are but a small sample of what is to come in the next few years.

With over 200 schools linked by FiberNet, MCPS is ready to expand the role of technology in education. With strong support from the Education and Government Operations Committee, chromebooks are already integrated into the curriculum for 3rd, 5th, and 6th graders as well has high school social studies classes. The plan is expand the rollout to the 7th grade, half of the 8th grade, and one high school content area this year. Students learn the new collaborative models for research, writing, and presentation projects through Google Apps for Education.

The “homework gap” is a term used to describe how some kids do not have the web access they need at home to complete their homework. The Council’s Education and Government Operations Committees recently held a hearing on how the County is addressing the homework gap and what can be done to improve our efforts. As a result of that discussion, MCPS is conducting further study about device gaps and broadband gaps. Agencies are working together to promote the $10 per month Comcast internet program for low income families, and the county has joined other jurisdictions, including through a resolution I introduced which passed at the National Association of Counties, as well as a letter from Next Century Cities, which I pressed the County to join, to support a new FCC requirement for telecom companies to subsidize broadband, not just land line, access (pdf).

It is clear that no one solution exists for combatting the “homework gap,” but as devices such as chromebooks become an integral part of the MCPS learning environment, we are focused on the problem.

Access in rural communities is a national concern, and more than one third of our county is set aside for farming. This area, nearly 100,000 acres, is called the Agricultural Reserve. Because we are committed to the success of the Ag Reserve, we must provide broadband service to the more than 2,000 properties there that do not have it today. That is why the County participated in a demonstration of 1gb Wireless technology that could be leveraged in the Ag Reserve, and the County, with encouragement from council member Roger Berliner, also negotiated reduced charges for Ag Reserve residents who want to link up to the Comcast network there — a model that may be extendable to other providers as well.

A Roadmap and Reorganization

These ideas and more are coming together in a Broadband Roadmap, now underway, which will lay out the county’s comprehensive vision of leveraging ultra high-speed broadband networks for economic development and community benefit. This roadmap, which I requested of the executive branch, will ultimately bear the stamp of not only the Leggett Administration, but the County Council, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, technologist residents, and other network stakeholders.

At my request, the County Executive has also agreed to consider reorganizing broadband responsibilities in our Department of Technology Services, to better align our staffing structure with our goals and make more effective investments in the program. While I initially proposed to create a Broadband Authority to take independent ownership of the function, as other jurisdictions are also considering, I agree that we should proceed carefully here and we may be able to achieve our goals with reorganization rather than creating an external entity. Time will tell.

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Thoughts on the Westbard Sector Plan

Following are my prepared remarks on the Westbard Sector Plan. You may also watch a video of my remarks as delivered.


I want to start by thanking all the people who put a great deal of time into formulating this plan. Hundreds of Westbard residents – and residents across Montgomery County – who wrote, called, and came to testify to the Planning Board and the Council throughout this process, and while no one person is getting exactly the outcome they might want, I truly believe that the plan before us today is much better because of the extensive public input we’ve received – and the many changes we have made in response. Ultimately, I believe that this plan strikes the right balance between respecting the legitimate expectations of the existing community and providing a sustainable path for future growth.

I think some context might be helpful for anyone who cares to understand my vote today, so I hope my colleagues will excuse me if this is a little long:

I ran for Montgomery County Council as a progressive Democrat because I am deeply committed to the progressive values of social justice, equal opportunity, and shared responsibility. Here at the local level, these values play out very differently than they do on cable news – the county council doesn’t get much say over immigration, or gun control, or foreign policy.

Instead, we reflect our progressive values through our budget – where we ensure a robust safety net, universal health coverage, a strong education for all students. We try to build an economy that works for everyone by combining relentless economic and workforce development with efforts to level the playing field with a reasonable minimum wage, paid sick leave, hopefully one day paid family and parental leave. We do our part in the fight against discrimination and for equal rights.

But for me, the key to our community’s success is that we are welcoming and open. The message I want Montgomery County to send to the rest of the world is: Whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever your economic status, if you are willing to work hard and be good to your neighbors, come to Montgomery County and share in the good life. You’ll have access to basic services, to training and education and jobs, your kids can go to a good school and play at great parks, and you will be safe. If you want to start a company you can find investors and a world class network of incubators, if you need employees we have the best educated workforce in the world.

I know that sounds grandiose, but at its core, the progressive values that drive the Democratic positions on economic issues, on social issues, are really about inclusion – about realizing a vision of shared prosperity – that’s it’s not enough for just the elite to prosper. And nothing is more fundamental to this vision than housing. Where you live determines the quality of your schools, what jobs you have access to, and so many other things. So I really believe that the community planning process we are engaged in today is really where the rubber meets the road for putting progressive values into action. That means providing income-restricted housing in every neighborhood to ensure that the very poorest and most vulnerable in our community have a place to live and aren’t clustered in high crime areas with little opportunity. We are breaking new ground by requiring at least 15% of new units to be affordable to low-income families. But it also means building enough housing to ensure that people of all income levels have a place here. If we don’t build enough housing to meet demand, prices rise and working class people are priced out.

And we have a moral imperative to plan this housing in an environmentally sustainable way. We know with scientific certainty what the combustion engine is doing to our planet. This means clustering new housing in existing communities rather than allowing green space to be developed and providing ways for people to get around on foot, by bike, and by public transit. While this plan is not on a metro station, and some of these new residents will certainly drive, the plan does make great strides in improving the walkability of the area and I am hopeful that expanded demand will allow us to improve bus service even further. But there can be no doubt that building townhouses on what is already a giant parking lot, just a mile from two metros, right across from the DC line, is far better for the environment than developing a farm or bulldozing a forest an hour north on 270.

Of course, our first principle must be do no harm. I don’t want to change any of the things that make Westbard wonderful. First, not a single existing home is being touched. We reduced the allowed development proposed by the Planning Board by half because we were convinced that it would have been too much, too fast for the roads, schools, and neighborhoods to handle. The plan before us today will only improve life for everyone in the Westbard sector. Traffic will be still be bad, but not noticeably worse. There will be new shopping and dining options and a great new park. The schools will still be great and Kenwood’s cherry blossoms will still bloom.

This also means making sure that the developers, who there is no doubt will make a profit from this project, pay their fair share to ensure there is adequate school and transportation capacity for all residents. This year we will be revising the Subdivision Staging Policy, which governs what developers must do and what they must pay to build in Montgomery County, and I know all my colleagues will be working to make sure that the rules line up with reality and we have the resources we need.

All in all, I truly believe this plan strikes the right balance between protecting and enhancing the things that make Westbard, and Montgomery County, such a wonderful place to live, while creating new opportunities for families from all socioeconomic backgrounds to enjoy our community’s marvelous resources.