Budget Part 3: Transportation and Climate

Dear Resident:

The latest report from the U.N. panel on climate change delivered a stark warning, but also a pragmatic path forward. We need to act, now, at all levels of government and society to reduce and eventually eliminate our emissions.

The task ahead of us is enormous, but it is achievable. We know what we need to do, and we have all the tools we need. One of those tools is to generate much more clean energy. We need to electrify our buildings and make them more efficient. We need to transition the transportation sector to electric and invest heavily in transit, biking, and walking.

Fortunately, doing these things needn’t mean living with less and paying more for it. Done smartly and deliberately, greening our homes and vehicles presents enormous upside for jobs and economic growth as we invest in new technologies and upgrading buildings, appliances, and machinery. As President Biden has said, “When I think about climate change, I think about jobs. Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation ready to be fired up.”

It is in that spirit that I approached this year’s budget. I am happy to report that we took major steps forward this year as a result of initiatives that I championed.

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Budget Part 2: Taking action on affordable housing

Dear Resident:

Montgomery County needs more affordable housing! It is becoming extraordinarily difficult for young workers and families to get a foothold here, or for retirees to stay here.

I Wanted to Stay Here,” was the title of a recent article about affordable housing that was tough to read. To help tackle this crisis, we need more action on affordable housing. Our regional housing plan calls for us to double our annual housing production to alleviate a serious housing shortage.

That is why I am so pleased that the County’s budget for next year makes some enormous strides on housing. In the second part of this series on next year’s budget–the first was on education and workforce–we take a closer look at record funding for affordable housing.

Addressing the high cost of housing and getting our economy rolling again have been my top priorities since taking over as Chair of the Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee. I am greatful that my colleagues on the Committee–Councilmembers Will Jawando and Andrew Friedson–have been excellent partners as we have tackled these tough issues.

Good news: the Council approved a proposal I made with support from my colleagues to add $50 million to an affordable housing construction loan fund for the Housing Opportunities Commission, taking to $100 million a revolving loan fund for their innovative housing model.

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Budget Part 1: Education and Workforce

Dear Resident,

The Council has completed next year’s budget. In this and a few emails to come, I’m going to share details about some key initiatives. I’m excited to report on our progress.

Fiscal policy

Storm clouds of economic recession are gathering again. Inflation and market turmoil are already impacting our residents’ finances and could soon do the same for the County.

That’s why the Council took some corrective action on fiscal policy — rejecting the County Executive’s proposal to tap into the retiree benefits fund for $20 million in current spending, in violation of county policy. We put that money back so it will be there when we need it in the future.

Unlike the Executive’s budget at the start of the pandemic, this one had no property tax increase for us to un-do. Tax rates remain the same.

Now for education and workforce.

Our children are experiencing significant impacts from COVID, whether learning loss or mental health, and it is going to take concerted effort to recover. The Council approved $2.9 billion for MCPS next year, a 5% increase in our county contribution.

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Transit in the 270 Corridor

Dear Resident:

Last summer the majority of the Council and the Governor reached an agreement to fund a major new transit project as part of the Governor’s plans to add capacity on the American Legion Bridge and 270 in his Opportunity Lanes project.

You may have been asking yourself, “what transit project are we going to build?” Well, the Council is going to answer that question in the next couple months. But first, we want public engagement on the question.

The process begins with a public hearing on February 15, 2022 for the Corridor Forward: I-270 Transit Plan. That plan addresses future transit investments in the area.

Because the Corridor Forward plan is so closely related to the objectives of funding transit through the Opportunity Lanes funds, we are asking residents to provide testimony on the Corridor Forward plan generally and how to prioritize immediate investments in a new transit system paid for by the Opportunity Lanes project.

Now the County Executive has proposed that we use funding from Opportunity Lanes to pay for Bus Rapid Transit on 355 and Veirs Mill. His recommended transportation construction budget shows $170 million. That’s just a downpayment towards the full cost of construction and operations.

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Statement on in-person learning at MCPS

Dear Resident,

As a parent and community leader I’m incredibly concerned about the negative impact that school closures and virtual learning have had on student mental health. I believe that schools should remain open for in-person instruction whenever and wherever possible, although I recognize that the learning process will be disrupted this month under any scenario.

All of our students have experienced losses of one kind or another over the last two years – social, emotional and academic. Unfortunately, data shows that some of our most vulnerable children – children from communities that were already facing enormous challenges before the pandemic – are the most heavily impacted by learning loss. That is heartbreaking to me.

But the good news is that we also know the vaccinations are exceptionally good at preventing serious illness from Covid. Although it still feels very bleak, I do think we’ve come a long way from where we were a year ago, and we’ve gotten better at certain aspects of controlling the virus.

We are going to get through this wave. It would be unrealistic to say there won’t be significant impacts to learning while we ride it out – no doubt we still have a ways to go.

But I think that now is the time as a community to come together on behalf of the long-term well being of our kids by trying to keep them in school as long as staffing is adequate.

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