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Daily Journal (Silver Spring Transit Center, County Debt Limit, Small Business)

Today’s T&E committee started with a briefing on a new agreement to govern the Blue Plains Waste Water treatment facility, where most of our sewage is treated.

Then we moved on to discuss the terrible news about problems with the construction at the Silver Spring Transit Center. We do not know yet how this will be resolved but there will be a long delay in opening the transit center. How long? Long. We don’t know.

Then the full council met to discuss legislation that is pending in Annapolis. No real news there but we are working closely with our delegation to protect the county from a proposal to change who is responsible for funding teacher pensions. The state has been responsible for that for 85 years but has managed the pension badly and now wants to foist the pension deficit onto county governments. Montgomery County would be responsible for paying over $40 million in state pension funding in just the first year alone, and according to the state projections these costs are expected to increase about 10% per year.

In the afternoon, at a joint meeting of the GO committee with the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee we discussed concerns about small businesses and redevelopment. I was pleased to hear that the County Executive is depositing $2 million into the revolving small business loan program; I requested that the council discuss policy objectives for how those loans would be made. Can we fund clean-tech startups? Child care companies? Can we target the loans to problems we want to address, such as unemployment in the Hispanic community?

I was also pleased to learn that the County Executive is exploring partnerships with community banks to make loans, perhaps helping close deals on certain loans that the banks would not be able to fully finance themselves.

These are promising developments—we can and must do better to grow our own job creator right here in Montgomery County.

The day continued with a final committee meeting to set our assumptions for the capital budget. We set our annual borrowing for that budget at $295 million and addressed some technical issues that will likely result in reducing the funds available for the $4 billion capital budget by another few tens of millions.

To polish off the day, or evening, I met with a group of activists in the Chevy Chase area that calls itself the “District 1 caucus.” Included among them was former Councilmember Scot Fosler. We had an interesting conversation about the nature of the County Executive position. Did you know that Fairfax County does not have an elected County Executive? They have a county manager type position. It was a treat to meet Scot; last Friday I met Bill Scher, also a former council member.

Which reminds me that today I got a call from former Governor Parris Glendening, who is inviting me to join a select group of local officials from around the country in a program hosted by Smart Growth America, the non-profit policy organization that he founded. I was thrilled to get the Governor’s call and I’m looking forward to getting involved with this effort to support and build smart growth champions around the country.

Meanwhile tomorrow at full council session I am introducing a new bill that I drafted on big box retailing issues and considering recommendations I want to make for our county cable plan operations. And tomorrow our T&E committee will return, and possibly conclude, the issue of take home vehicles for county employees that I have been working on for some time.

Lots going on!


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Daily Journal (Capital Budget or CIP)

Today we received the county executive’s proposed capital budget (called the CIP). This is a six year, $4 billion budget used for investments in new school buildings, county buildings, transit projects, roads, technology, and so forth—expenses that are not operating expenses (like compensation) but rather assets that we build.

The County Council will review the exec’s proposal intensively for the next two months or so and then final passage will be at the same time as the operating budget, in May.

Needless to say, my office, as well as activists and organizations around the county, are pouring through the details and assessing how various projects have fared. I’ll be commenting on these issues a lot in the coming weeks as we work through the details. This is also my first CIP, as the budget is on a two-year cycle.

One of the undercurrents of debate on this issue is the amount that the county borrows in order to fund the capital budget. I have been on the record saying that while I believe over the long term our borrowing will need to come down as our debt service costs are very high, this is not the year to start cutting back on construction spending. For example, MCPS has stated that school construction prices have dropped from more than $280 per square foot to $217. We should be taking advantage of that opportunity.

What the country and our county needs is for government at every level, Federal, state and local, to work together to boost economic activity. These projects create jobs right here in Montgomery County and of course they also create first-rate classrooms, greater mobility through enhanced transportation, stronger communities, and a better place to live.

Governor O’Malley has called for more capital spending at the state level, arguing that these projects will create jobs as well as improve the state’s economic position.

The county needs to pull its weight as well.

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Daily journal, 11-8-11

I was with family for a funeral on Monday (yesterday), I am sorry to say.

Today began with “state legislation”, a meeting between the full council and the executive team’s Maryland state legislative representatives. Melanie Wenger heads our efforts and does a superb job.

I find these meetings somewhat exasperating because we are asked to take positions on a variety of bills in the state house that are “county only” bills, meaning they would affect only county residents. We work as a group and there could be 5, 10, or even 15 bills to discuss. For example, a proposal to allow Damascus to bring their liquor prohibition to a ballot initiative, or a bill to allow permitting of roadside solicitation.

As opposed to our deliberative committee process on county bills, this process is hasty.

We also discussed the county’s overarching priorities for the state, which are largely about getting certain grants approved, for example for Montgomery College, securing school funds and fending off changes that would prevent us from meeting our state funding obligations for MCPS, passing a transportation fund improvement and securing same funds particularly for transit expansion, and so on.

In the full council session we heard a very helpful presentation from regional economist Stephen Fuller about Montgomery County’s economic outlook. The outlook is fundamentally very strong because the DC region is increasingly THE place for companies to be. But MoCo needs to provide the high quality work force these companies will need in order to land in the county, which means education and training as well as housing.

At the end of the day I volunteered for my friends Ryan Spiegel, Jud Ashman and Cathy Dryzygla, who are running for re-election to the Gaithersburg city council. They have been a joy to get to know in my work in the county and they did so much for me when I ran for Council. Even better I was joined at the polling place by council member Mike Sesma and we got a good long talk in about everything from the curfew to the big box bill. Gaithersburg is lucky to have this council working with their fine mayor, Sidney Katz.

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Daily journal, 10-13-11

We have an economy that “grows” but doesn’t create jobs. The human
toll of this national crisis is devastating for so many families.

It might surprise you then to know that there are hundreds and maybe
thousands of private sector jobs that could come online in Montgomery
County but have not materialized because they are moving in slow
motion through our government bureaucracy.

In an economy like this, if we could accelerate an approved project
for a new office building or hotel and deliver that project and those
jobs in one year instead of two, wouldn’t that be an effective job
creation strategy and economic stimulus? Over the short term, clearly
more effective than chasing after companies headquartered in other
jurisdictions?

Just in the past few weeks, I have spoken with business leaders in
Bethesda and Silver Spring who have said that their new commercial and
residential projects, though approved with community support, are
stuck in the mire of our development process. Multiple decisions from
an array of bureaucratic stakeholders at the county level don’t happen
quickly enough because there is actually no one inside the government
responsible for getting the projects to the finish line.

This is not to denigrate the individual players at our agencies who
are doing good work. We just need someone who can steer everything
through that maze successfully.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the county’s
economic strategy. I am passionate about these issues because I know
that a job with decent pay is the bedrock of any family and community.
As a county, we make a big profit on tax revenues when we create jobs
but not so much when we create housing. If we want to keep funding our
schools, parks, libraries and social services in a time when incomes
are falling, we need more robust job growth to pay for it.

There is tremendous value locked up in our bureaucracy. We need to get
it moving and get those jobs out to our people. I’m going to see how
I can address this issue.

Meanwhile also, please keep asking Hannah McCann to keep Fenton Street
Market going!