By

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.

By

Councilmembers Riemer, Elrich and Leventhal Introduce Anti-Poverty Bill

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer today introduced a bill to increase the county’s local Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is called the Working Families Income Supplement.  Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal are co-sponsoring the bill.
Originally created in 2000, the Working Families Income Supplement was set at 100% of the state’s EITC for ten years.  In 2010, the County Council changed the law to allow the supplement to be set at a lower amount due to a “fiscal crisis” and “severe reduction in revenue.”  Bill 8-13 would return the supplement to a 100% match in three years.  An amendment by Councilmember Leventhal would allow the council to waive the policy by supermajority vote, preserving flexibility during fiscal emergencies.
“Many families struggle to make ends meet in Montgomery County and for the lowest income families the challenge is even greater.  The county’s Working Families Income Supplement, in concert with State and Federal components, improves the ability of families to meet the cost of necessities,” said Councilmember Elrich.  “With improvements in the county’s fiscal outlook, we are able to begin to undo some of the damage the last few years have done to our safety net programs and the Working Families Supplement is one of the most effective and direct forms of assistance in our toolbox.”
Dating back to 1975, the federal EITC extends tax credits to working people with low incomes.  Eligible recipients can have incomes as high as $46,227 (or $51,567 for married people filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children.  The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the EITC kept 6.25 million people above the poverty line in 2010.  An academic literature review by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds “overwhelming evidence [that] the EITC encourages work among single mothers” by increasing their after-tax incomes.  Another studyby the Brookings Institution finds that the EITC “has grown to be called the nation’s largest federal anti-poverty program” and “has had significantly beneficial effects for its recipients and their communities. These include encouragement of work, reduction of poverty, and boosting of local economic activity.”
“The Working Families Income Supplement is the most effective means we have of reducing the prevalence of poverty in Montgomery County, especially among children,” said Councilmember Leventhal. “There can be no question that the supplement succeeds in its primary objective to encourage people to work more hours and transition off of welfare, but it also provides a host of ancillary benefits such as a short term safety net, improving children’s school performance, and improving health outcomes for children and their parents alike.”
While twenty-two states and the District of Columbia provide EITCs, New York City and Montgomery County are the only local jurisdictions that provide them.  In 2011, the county had 33,840 recipients comprising nearly 10% of its households.  The average payment to recipients was $381.81.  A full restoration of the supplement would bring the average payment level to greater than $500 and could make a crucial difference in the lives of many county residents.
“I’m pleased to be working with Councilmembers Elrich and Leventhal on this bill,” said Councilmember Riemer.  “They have been champions of the county’s working class for many years.  Councilmember Leventhal has been recognized for his work on housing and health care, while Councilmember Elrich has been working for renters for decades.  Together, we can continue their efforts to make life easier for county residents who depend on our EITC.”
Source: Montgomery County Council’s Legislative Information Office. For a link to the full press release, please click here.