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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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New Council Budget Highlights

The council’s budget this year was a great step forward.  Within a framework of fiscal prudence — county spending did not increase faster than county resident’s average personal income — we increased our funding for education, environmental protection, libraries, parks, public safety, human services and other key areas, and we also provided an additional modest reduction in the energy tax.


Every Councilmember gets the chance to make his or her own mark on the budget. I certainly made mine this year. Here are some of the ways in which I worked with my colleagues to make a difference:


  1. Caring for our county trees: The council provided an increase of nearly $1 million for planting county trees, caring for them and grinding stumps.
  2. Reducing traffic: We also secured $250,000 for optimizing traffic signals so that we can fight congestion with smarter solutions.
  3. Boosting our EITC: After the County Executive recommended an additional $1.8 million to raise the county’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the council boosted that program by another $1 million.  This raised our EITC overall by 10%.
  4. Child care: The council added funding for a new effort by the county to support child care providers with business consulting services.  We also provided an extra $338,670 in assistance to working poor parents to pay for child care.
  5. Bike lanes: The council added $250,000 to our Department of Transportation’s budget to work with our bike advocacy groups to stripe new bike lanes in order to ensure that our new bike sharing program, which is coming very soon, will succeed.

I hope you are enjoying your summer. As always, please remember that if you need a county service or have a request for information about county services, just call 311 from any phone in the county or search the www.mc311.com website from your desktop or mobile phone. And of course email me for assistance.

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Our county budget – what are your priorities?

Every year, the County Executive sends the County Council a recommended budget on March 15. The council spends two months hearing from residents, reviewing the budget and deciding on changes before finalizing it with a vote. We are now underway.
Resident input is invaluable to me and I am seeking comments on your priorities. The council has scheduled five hearings on April 9 through 11.  If you wish to testify, please call 240-777-7803. Additionally, I am excited to announce that for the first time citizens can now use our newest civic outreach platform, engageMontgomery, to voice their concerns on the proposed budget.  And as always, you can contact me directly at councilmember.riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov or by writing to me on my Facebook page.
The Executive’s recommended operating budget continues our recent work to regain what we lost during the Great Recession. Between 2010 and 2012, the county responded to a collapse in revenues by cutting spending significantly. Many departments took double-digit hits. In the new budget, as a result of very small annual increases in spending, many of those government functions are now about where they were before the recession hit.
We are balancing our restoration work with caution.  In the three years that preceded the recession, tax-supported spending grew by nearly 30%.  Over the last four years, the growth in our tax-supported budget has averaged 3.0% per year – not much higher than the average rate of inflation (2.4%).  Much of that growth has gone to savings programs such as our reserves and our retiree health benefits pre-funding.   We are also holding the line on our county’s total workforce, which is about the same size as it was four years ago, and doing everything we can to protect our AAA bond rating.  
As I begin my review of the Executive’s budget, my first focus is on those programs that impact the most vulnerable members of our community.  Here are two of them.
Working Families Income Supplement
Montgomery County is one of a tiny number of local jurisdictions in the country that provide Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs).  Our county’s EITC is called the Working Families Income Supplement and complements the state’s EITC.  By putting money directly into the pockets of low-income workers, the EITC is one of the most successful U.S. anti-poverty programs.
During the Great Recession, the county cut its EITC by more than 30%.  The Executive has restored some of this money in his budget and deserves recognition for that, but there is more work to do.  I will be working hard to restore our EITC to pre-recession levels to help working families in our county cope with our exceptionally high cost of living.
Funding non-profit service partners
Our county partners with a large network of nonprofits to provide services to residents, including education, senior services, assistance to the homeless, housing, health care, children and youth services and much more.  These nonprofits are critical and cost-effective options for the county to multiply its efforts.  They are also a large part of the county’s economy as nonprofits employ over 40,000 people and have a combined payroll of $2.2 billion.
The Great Recession has generated enormous demand for the services of our non-profits.  At the same time, they have endured funding challenges.  In 2011, the county was forced to cut disbursements to non-profits by 5% because of revenue shortfalls.  We were able to restore 2% last year.  I, along with my colleagues, will be looking for ways to restore non-profit services further this year so that we can keep up with the needs of county residents who depend on them.


Your priorities


There are many big decisions ahead of us: education funding for MCPS and Montgomery College, tax rates, environmental measures such as stormwater fees, health care services, library services, parks, economic development incentives.  

 

What are your priorities?  Please let me know by at councilmember.riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov or writing to me on my Facebook page.