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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.

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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.