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Remarks on the FY18 Budget

It’s no secret that I think that the cost and availability of quality PreK and child care is one of the most pressing issues Montgomery County families face. This Council’s attention to this issue has yielded an Early Care and Education Strategic Plan and an OLO report that light the way forward. It seems clear to me from these reports that the first concrete step we can take is to make full day PreK available to all four year olds from families living below 300% of the federal poverty line. These students are overwhelmingly not receiving PreK now, and are starting kindergarten already behind their peers. We then spend many millions more to try to help them catch up.

OLO estimates that this PreK expansion might cost $35 million. I had suggested that we try to find $5 million in this budget to begin this investment. While we learned that it was not possible to get that full amount up and running for this next school year due to space, staffing, and procurement constraints we were able to invest $2.5 million – which will provide 240 new full day pre-k slots this school year for our most vulnerable children. We also expanded our child care subsidy program by $2 million.

For next year’s budget I suggest we try to provide $10 million to continue this PreK expansion. I’d like to work with my colleagues, MCPS, HHS, the County Executive, and other stakeholders to make this happen. Combined with the $2.5 million expansion in this year’s budget, that would get us much closer to the $35 million goal.

I am hoping that Councilmember Rice will be able to bring us a major new investment from the state. I also recognize that, for a broader expansion to be sustainable we need a dedicated revenue source as Councilmember Navarro has been advocating and we should seek private investment as well. I know Councilmember Hucker has been working on this as well. But in the meantime, I am no longer willing to wait – this is a step we can take within our existing system while we pursue these other options.

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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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Putting progressive values in action with new county budget

I am pleased to share highlights from the county’s new budget for Fiscal Year 2016 (video), which will begin July 1st.

This year was a “same services” budget, with lower revenues due to a regional economic slowdown. The Council’s total budget of $5.07 billion increases spending by a modest 1.7% over last year’s budget.

There were, however, many bright spots. Some of the best news:

Education: The Council was able to supplement the Executive’s recommended education funding by adding $2 million for technology investments in MCPS and $7.9 million to reduce tuition increases at Montgomery College. Overall, MCPS received $31.9 million over last year’s budget, to support higher enrollment. Unfortunately, Governor Hogan has withheld $17 million in budgeted state education funding for MCPS, so MCPS still faces difficult choices this year.

Clean elections: The Council added $1 million as a down payment on the small donor matching system we established in law last year. Candidates for Council and Executive who refuse large contributions will be eligible for small donor matches for the first time in the 2018 election; we are projected to need $8 million in public matching funds for that election.

I am especially pleased and humbled that the final budget included funds for a number of my initiatives:

Child Care: The Council added funds to implement the recently passed Bill 13-15, including provisions I authoredcreate a new Child Care and Early Education Officer and to develop a Child Care Strategic Plan. We also added over $500,000 for additional child care subsidies for low income families.

Transportation: The Council added funding I championed to improve pedestrian and bike infrastructure (BiPPA’s), add five new RideOn buses to expand service, and improve sidewalk snow removal.

Fighting poverty: The budget increases our Earned Income Tax Credit, as required by Bill 8-13, which I introduced to restore the EITC after it was cut during the Great Recession. Montgomery County is the only County in the nation to offer an EITC match, which has been widely recognized as one of the most effective anti-poverty tools.

Other initiatives I championed, within a responsible budget framework:

I hope these initiatives give you a clearer sense of my work to meet our ever changing community needs.

On the question of taxes, county taxes as a share of personal income are virtually unchanged from last year. In order to keep property tax collections under the charter limit, property tax rates will be slightly reduced. As a result, for the two-thirds of property owners who do not have a revision in their assessed value this year, property tax bills will decline slightly. The average tax burden in real terms will be lower this year than in 6 of the last 9 years, and it is considerably lower than it was in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

Finally, as you may have heard, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the county on an issue relating to our income tax collections. The issue, which affects those who earn income outside of Maryland, will reduce county revenue by more than $50 million next year. Significant budget challenges are ahead of us.

As always, I welcome hearing from you.

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Making my mark on the budget

Last week, the County Council passed a new budget for the year. As we steadily climb out of the Great Recession, we are beginning to restore critical services at a responsible pace.

My number one budget priority is education, and our new budget fully funds MCPS and Montgomery College. Our record funding amount of $2.28 billion will enable MCPS to reduce English and Math class sizes in the highest poverty schools and provide additional English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) staffing in 21 schools. We are also investing a record amount of local money on school construction. Our capital budget includes 27 new or expansion school projects all over the county.

These funding improvements are made in the context of a budget that overall is responsible. We have met or exceeded our reserve requirements, and the rate of growth is affordable (in fact, it is less than the rate of growth in personal income).

As in years past, I put my own stamp on our county priorities. Following are several initiatives that I successfully spearheaded with support from my colleagues at the County Council, largely through my work on the Transportation and Environment committee.

1. An Increase in the County’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): nearly 35,000 families in our county depend on the EITC to increase their incomes by reducing their tax burdens. The EITC was cut during the recession, but I passed legislation to restore it. The average eligible family will receive a $526 local tax credit next year, a record amount, adding to their Federal and State returns to provide a substantial increase in their incomes.

2. I also successfully worked to expand the county’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service, which helps residents fill out their tax returns and claim credits owed to them like the EITC — because you can’t claim the EITC if you don’t file taxes.

3. I created a new program in the capital budget that will help make Montgomery County more walkable and bikeable by funding bicycle and pedestrian improvements in the county’s more urbanized areas. The Department of Transportation will begin looking at improvements in Glenmont, Grosvenor, the Silver Spring CBD, Veirs Mill/Randolph and the Wheaton CBD and will then move on to the rest of the county.

4. I was stunned to learn that Montgomery County cannot expand bus service to meet our vision for transit because we are out of buses! I took action to add five more buses to our capital program. We discussed adding service to the 55 route from Germantown to Rockville as a high priority, among others.

5. One of the more important recommendations of our Night Time Economy Task Force was to improve the circulator services in our urban districts. So I took the lead to secure funding to expand and rethink the Silver Spring circulator, with a goal of creating a unified program across the county.

6. I also secured a funding increase for creating new natural surface trails in our parks — I would like to see our county become more of a mecca for hikers and bikers.

7. Finally, the county will begin a new tree planting initiative that I am working with the County Executive to design. Seed funding for this program was created in this year’s budget as well.

As you can see, I am working hard to fund public education and public transportation, our safety net, our environmental programs and more, while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Please contact me if I can be of service.