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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.

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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.