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Statement on the County’s FY19 operating and capital budget agreement

Today we have reached agreement on the County’s FY19 Budget. I want to thank all my colleagues for your hard work and collaboration throughout this process. Working together, and with our remarkable staff, we have produced a budget that is restrained and responsible, does not raise taxes, and ensures the County will continue to provide the superb services that so many of our residents appreciate so much.

I credit the County Executive with making many great decisions in his budget, including fully funding Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Fully funding MCPS was my highest priority and I know was very important to my colleagues as well.

Thanks to our unusual fiscal circumstances, however, the County Executive’s budget presented some daunting challenges in other areas, particularly with Public Safety.

Recognizing that this is a time for fiscal discipline, we worked to stretch our resources to meet as much of the need as we could. Most of the list that I put together, in consultation with my colleagues, focused on restoring services that we all deem to be critical.

In particular, we were able to restore $6.7 million to Fire and Rescue Services that was cut by the County Executive – this one service area is nearly one half of what we approved on the reconciliation list for FY19.

People take for granted that when their house is on fire, or when their spouse has a heart attack, that someone will respond quickly. We prioritized that quick response time in this budget.

Beyond public safety, our budget is about kids. In addition to fully funding the school’s request, we made significant progress funding services that are critical for our children.

Reflecting a strong council interest in early childhood, we added almost $1 million to expand half-day preschool to full day, in addition to the $2.5 million expansion that MCPS proposed in its budget. This significant step forward follows on last year’s effort, which converted 200 full day Head Start slots to full day in MCPS and added 40 new slots at Centro Nia. We are now on the precipice of converting all half day pre-k slots to full day, setting the table to begin expanding our pre-k services outright.

We expanded our academic and parent-engagement focused after school program, Excel Beyond the Bell, to two new elementary schools, continuing to build a program that the Council and Executive have worked together to build expand rapidly over the last several years.

We restored funding for a community health nurse who works with vulnerable, abused children, restored funding for Care for Kids, our community health clinic program for low income children, funded a drop-in center for homeless youth, expanded the smart sacks program to provide meals for kids, and added capacity for Montgomery Cares to provide health care for the uninsured.

We added funds for three new school resource officers, at the middle school level – a new focus for that successful program.

Recognizing crucial quality of life issues, we restored some proposed cuts to Parks, including an urban parks initiative, as well as to fund our planning program for future master plans, so that we can continue our important mission to reinvent how we live and grow. We supported our nonprofits and we deepened our strategic economic development programs in biotech.

And for our magnificent college, the Council’s budget funds 99.6% of the College’s tax supported request, and includes an increase of $2.75 million or 2% in local funding over FY18. It is the Council’s intent that College use its FY19 appropriation to fully-fund compensation and benefit agreements for its employees, and take any reductions needed to align its budget with the approved funding level from planned FY19 program enhancements instead. The Council recognizes that final decisions on these issues fall under the authority of the Board of Trustees.

Turning to our capital budget, once again our choices were made within a context of fiscal discipline. We reduced our borrowing amount and scheduled a continually declining borrowing level, an important step that we hope the next council will adhere to.

Despite a smaller overall construction budget, we increased the share going to school construction, including responding to the voices of the parents and students at Lee Middle School, accelerates planning for Dufief Elementary School, and funds $25 million more for School construction than the Executive originally recommended.

We also added an exciting new project, a new facility for STEM learning and innovation for kids, partnered with the KID Museum and the City of Rockville, to be located right in the heart of the county, near the Twinbrook Metro.

We shifted transportation priorities towards bike and pedestrian infrastructure, added planning dollars for Bus Rapid Transit, and shifted our bus fleet purchases towards electric vehicles.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without our remarkable staff. I want to thank our new Council Staff Executive Director, Marlene Michaelson, who has ably led us through her first budget at the helm. Jacob Sesker, Linda McMillan and the rest of our hardworking staff provided excellent professional support, and I am grateful for their contributions as well. But this was truly a team effort, with important contributions not only from all of the professional staff but also the dedicated members of every council member’s office. Great work, team.

I also want to acknowledge that for four of my colleagues, this will be their final budget, as a Councilmember anyway. Their accomplishments speak for themselves, but their legacy will be marked this year in our new budget as it has in every budget during their time at this dais.

Finally, I would like to recognize Steve Farber. Our work this year benefited greatly from the incredible organization he built.

With appreciation, I will now turn to my colleagues, who will highlight many of the significant initiatives included in this budget.

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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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Daily Journal (Feb 21 – Feb 24)

Tuesday started early with a meeting in Downtown Silver Spring with Ronnie Galvin, Executive Director of Impact Silver Spring. Impact focuses on building a thriving and engaged multicultural community, with campaigns in Gaithersburg, Wheaton, Silver Spring, and other areas. The organization does great work so it was a pleasure meeting with Ronnie.

Next came a meeting with leaders from the Rockville Economic Development Institute’s Women’s Business Center. I am very interested in seeing how the county can help entrepreneurs in the child care sector to expand or start new child care businesses. They are presenting ideas that I think are exciting and I’m looking forward to working on these issues at Council.

Lastly, a meeting with fellow Councilmember’s Roger Berliner and George Leventhal with the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, Beverley Swaim-Staley. We discussed Montgomery County’s critical transit priorities, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway. I was heartened to hear the Secretary explain that while big infrastructure projects have doubters, the doers get them done and she firmly expects that we will figure out how to finance these projects and get them done.

Wednesday featured an extended meeting with Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) Air Quality Committee as a new member. The COG’s focus is simple; creating a more accessible, sustainable, prosperous, and livable National Capital Region. The MWAQC is the entity that sets policy on pollution limits and signs off on those air quality alerts you hear, for example. I will be working hard to keep the pressure up on measures we can take to prevent global warming.

Thursday started with a meeting of the Purple Line Now (PLN) board, then a meeting discussing the County’s development review process with our Director of Permitting Services, Diane Schwartz-Jones. After that, a whirlwind of meetings from Brian Edwards and Richard Lipsky of Montgomery County Public Schools discussing PEG Channels in our schools to issues relating to the Kensington Sector Plan with community advocates (hi Judy Higgins!) and finally a very helpful meeting with the past chair of the county’s aging commission, Elaine Binder, about senior transportation issues; I am working on ideas for our Transportation committee to consider.

Friday featured a discussion about workforce training with Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard. We are making sure our students are getting practical training so that they can confidently and competently enter the workforce. Meanwhile I am focusing intently on the coalition campaign to stop the cost-shift budget cuts on pensions – www.stoptheshiftmd.com – and also putting a great deal of thought into Wheaton redevelopment.

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The Mini Nut

Enjoying our first trip to the Maryland Youth Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker. It’s a shortened version for kids. Still, lots of wiggles in the rows and kids getting caught in those folding theater seats! :)

The venue is Montgomery College‘s performing arts stage and it couldn’t be more spectacular.