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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Mis prioridades presupuestarias

Estimado residente del condado de Montgomery,

Hoy estoy lanzando una traducción de mis comunicaciones de correo electrónico para residentes que prefieran leerlas en Español. Espero que comparta este enlace de suscripción con su familia y compañeros.

El proceso presupuestario para el próximo año ha culminado. Hay buenas noticias para compartir, como también hay asuntos pendientes.

Nuestro proceso presupuestario tiene dos etapas. El Ejecutivo prepara un borrador del presupuesto y lo presenta antes del 15 de marzo de cada año. Luego, el Consejo hace cambios y finaliza el presupuesto a fines de mayo.

Estos son algunos de los puntos más destacados de este año, los cuales reflejan mis prioridades;

Comenzando con la educación, hemos podido financiar completamente la solicitud de presupuesto de MCPS, gracias a un aumento en la financiación estatal; ahora MCPS podrá reducir aún más el tamaño de clases. También hemos podido financiar completamente a Montgomery College. Es importante destacar que ni MCPS ni Montgomery College fueron totalmente financiados en el borrador del presupuesto del Ejecutivo.

En el área de cuidado infantil y preescolar; este es el tercer año consecutivo en el que expandimos la asistencia preescolar para niños de bajos ingresos. La expansión de cuidado infantil y preescolar ha sido mi prioridad en la política de educación temprana y me alegra comunicarles que gracias a la reciente expansión, la cantidad de niños de bajos recursos que se beneficiarán del programa preescolar de día completo alcanzará los 1500, de los 750 de hace tres años.

Quiero también felicitar al Presidente del Comité de Educación del Consejo, Craig Rice, a la Presidenta del Consejo, Nancy Navarro, por su trabajo en educación temprana, y al Ejecutivo del Condado por incluir los fondos en su presupuesto. Estamos progresando, aunque
aún hay mucho más por hacer.

Estoy aún más entusiasmado por la expansión de programas extracurriculares, siempre me ha interesado este tema y trabajo arduamente todos los años para que los programas extracurriculares sean agregados a nuestro presupuesto. Los miembros del Consejo Albornoz y Jawando se unieron a la causa este año y hemos podido agregar cuatro nuevas escuelas primarias de alto índice de pobreza a nuestro exhaustivo programa Excel Beyond the Bell, alcanzando un total de 8 escuelas que hemos agregado en 3 años.

Cada uno de estos programas sirve a 120 niños, cinco días a la semana. ¡Con 8 escuelas, ahora llegaremos a casi 1,000 niños de edad primaria atendidos todos los días del calendario escolar!

También hemos agregado 3 programas extracurriculares en middle schools o escuelas intermedias y hemos creado una iniciativa llamada “ Skills for the Future” o “Habilidades para el Futuro” en español, para apoyar a los programas de STEM para jóvenes.

En el área de tránsito, pudimos restaurar cuatro de las siete rutas de autobús propuestas para ser reducidas en el presupuesto del Ejecutivo. Estoy decepcionado de no haber podido restaurar las siete rutas completas, lamentablemente el corte del servicio de autobús aumentará el tráfico y va en contra de la equidad social y de nuestros objetivos medioambientales.

Sin embargo, estoy contento de que ahora el servicio de autobuses RideOn y WMATA sea gratuito para los estudiantes. Esto creará toda una nueva generación de pasajeros de tránsito. Agradezco al Concejal Evan Glass por su apoyo.

Al mismo tiempo, agradezco a mis colegas por llegar al acuerdo de rechazar el recorte de $5 millones propuesto por el Ejecutivo al programa de “Áreas Prioritarias” para bicicletas y peatones (BiPPA). BiPPA es un programa que construye nueva infraestructura de seguridad en áreas del Condado con infraestructura antigua. BiPPA tiene proyectos planeados en Wheaton, Silver Spring y en el corredor de la Línea morada.

También pudimos restaurar los fondos para construir nuevas entradas en las estaciones de Metro de White Flint y Forest Glen las cuales el ejecutivo había propuesto recortarlas del presupuesto, ambas obras son necesarias ya que hace que el transporte sea más accesible al público.

En cuanto a la emergencia climática, quiero agradecer a mis colegas por apoyar mi propuesta de $ 400,000 para comenzar una iniciativa integral de planificación del cambio climático.

También, pudimos restablecer fondos cruciales para nuestro sistema de Parques, el cual fue programado para recortes significativos en el presupuesto del ejecutivo. Quiero agradecer al Concejal Friedson, nuestro Líder del Consejo para Parques, que no descanso hasta conseguir restablecer los fondos.

Quizás se pregunte cómo el Consejo pudo financiar estos programas. La respuesta está en cambiar ciertas prioridades dentro del presupuesto. No subimos impuestos. Sin embargo, hicimos cambios de otras maneras, como por ejemplo, reduciendo compensaciones irrazonables.

El aumento de 9% propuesto por el Ejecutivo del Condado no era asequible. La reducción de su capacidad permitió que el Consejo agregara fondos a muchas de estas prioridades clave mencionadas anteriormente. (Aunque en mi opinión el aumento de 7% acordado por el consejo continúa siendo más de lo que podemos costear, y no concuerdo con esa propuesta).

En cuanto a los asuntos pendientes: mientras elaboramos un mejor presupuesto, el Condado continúa teniendo un problema subyacente: tenemos un déficit estructural. Un déficit estructural es cuando nuestros ingresos continuamente están por debajo de nuestros gastos; aquello sucedió nuevamente este año. El presupuesto que acabamos de aprobar se financia sustancialmente del uso de reservas destinadas a los gastos de salud de los jubilados. Esta práctica debe terminar.

Necesitamos arreglar nuestro déficit estructural alineando nuestros gastos con nuestros ingresos. El Ejecutivo del Condado ha hablado acerca de “dimensionar correctamente” al gobierno del Condado, y los miembros del Consejo han indicado su apoyo. Eso ayudaría a asegurar que la compensación no crezca más rápido que los ingresos, dejando espacio para financiar prioridades críticas.

En el futuro, debemos trabajar juntos para hacer cambios que nos pongan en un camino más sostenible.

¡Gracias por su atencion!

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Concejal del Condado de Montgomery

My budget priorities

Dear Resident:

The County’s budget for the next year is done. There is good news to share, as well as unfinished business.

Our budget process has two stages. The Executive prepares a draft and submits it by March 15. The Council then makes changes and finalizes the budget by the end of May.

Here are some of my highlights from this year, reflecting my own priorities.

Starting with education, we fully funded the MCPS budget request, thanks particularly to an increase in state funding. We also fully funded Montgomery College. Neither were fully funded in the Executive’s budget. MCPS will now reduce class size guidelines further.

On child care and pre-k, this is the third year in a row that we will expand pre-k for low income kids. Including this year’s expansion, the number of poor children benefiting from full-day pre-k will reach 1500, from 750 three years ago. This has been my highest priority in early education policy.

I want to salute Council President Nancy Navarro and Council Education Committee Chair Craig Rice and for their work on early education, and the County Executive for including the funds in his budget. We are making progress, though we have more to do.

I’m particularly thrilled by our expansion of after school programs. I have worked hard to add programs every year to our budget. This year I was joined by Councilmembers Albornoz and Jawando as we added four new high poverty elementary schools to our comprehensive Excel Beyond the Bell program, bringing the total to 8 that we have added in 3 years.

Each of these programs serves 120 children, five days a week. With 8 schools, we will now reach nearly 1,000 elementary age children served every school day!

We also added 3 middle school programs and we created a new initiative called Skills for the Future to support youth STEM programs.

On transit, we were able to restore four of the seven routes proposed for reduced service in the Executive’s budget. I am disappointed that we could not restore all seven. Cutting bus service is sure to increase driving and works against our social equity and environmental goals.

I am however happy that RideOn and WMATA bus service will now be free to students, all the time. This should create a whole new generation of transit riders. Thanks Councilmember Evan Glass for your advocacy!

I am particularly grateful that my colleagues agreed to reject the Executive’s proposed cuts of $5 million to the bicycle and pedestrian “Priority Areas” program (BiPPA). This is a construction program that builds new safety infrastructure in areas of the County with older infrastructure. It has projects planned in Wheaton, Silver Spring, and along the Purple Line corridor. Thank you Transportation Chair Tom Hucker!

We also restored funding for new Metro station entrances in White Flint and Forest Glen, both badly needed to make these station areas more accessible. The Executive had proposed cutting them from the budget.

On the climate emergency, I want to thank my colleagues for supporting my proposal for $400,000 to begin a comprehensive climate change planning initiative.

And finally, we were able to restore crucial funding to our Parks system, which was slated for significant cuts in the executive’s budget. I want to thank Councilmember Friedson, our Council’s Lead for Parks, who pushed until we got it done.

You may wonder how the Council was able to fund these programs. The answer lies in changing certain priorities within the budget. We did not raise taxes. We did, however, make changes in other ways, including scaling back some compensation that was excessive.

The County Executive’s proposed 9% raises were not affordable. Scaling them back enabled the Council to add funding to many of these key priorities mentioned above. (Though my view is that the 7% raise the Council agreed to for many employees was still more than we can afford, and I opposed that proposal too).

So as for unfinished business: while we crafted a better budget, the County still has an underlying problem — we have a structural deficit. A structural deficit is when our revenues continually come in below our expenditures. It happened again this year. The budget that we passed is substantially funded by using reserves intended for retiree health expenses. That practice needs to end.

We need to fix our structural deficit by bringing our expenses in line with our revenues. The County Executive has talked about “right-sizing” County government, and Councilmembers have indicated support. That would help ensure that compensation does not grow faster than revenues, leaving room to fund critical priorities.

Going forward, we need to work together to make changes that will put us on a more sustainable path.

Thank you for reading!

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large