Daily Journal (Capital Budget or CIP)

Today we received the county executive’s proposed capital budget (called the CIP). This is a six year, $4 billion budget used for investments in new school buildings, county buildings, transit projects, roads, technology, and so forth—expenses that are not operating expenses (like compensation) but rather assets that we build.

The County Council will review the exec’s proposal intensively for the next two months or so and then final passage will be at the same time as the operating budget, in May.

Needless to say, my office, as well as activists and organizations around the county, are pouring through the details and assessing how various projects have fared. I’ll be commenting on these issues a lot in the coming weeks as we work through the details. This is also my first CIP, as the budget is on a two-year cycle.

One of the undercurrents of debate on this issue is the amount that the county borrows in order to fund the capital budget. I have been on the record saying that while I believe over the long term our borrowing will need to come down as our debt service costs are very high, this is not the year to start cutting back on construction spending. For example, MCPS has stated that school construction prices have dropped from more than $280 per square foot to $217. We should be taking advantage of that opportunity.

What the country and our county needs is for government at every level, Federal, state and local, to work together to boost economic activity. These projects create jobs right here in Montgomery County and of course they also create first-rate classrooms, greater mobility through enhanced transportation, stronger communities, and a better place to live.

Governor O’Malley has called for more capital spending at the state level, arguing that these projects will create jobs as well as improve the state’s economic position.

The county needs to pull its weight as well.

Daily Journal, 01-04-12 (MCPS School Construction)

Back from some holiday down time! After breakfast with new Rockville City Councilmember Tom Moore and former Council Member John Britton, I headed down to Garrett Park Elementary School for the opening of a newly modernized school there. The students were actually on their first day in the new building, and we joined a few classrooms to watch the students working with their teachers in the new environment. It was gratifying to see so many happy kids… the county’s funds well spent… and our community values artfully articulated there in brick and mortar, advanced classroom technology, and even geothermal energy.

School construction is certainly on my mind as we prepare for the “CIP” budget, which is our six-year capital improvements budget. Last fall the County Executive proposed to cut about $150 million over six years from that budget, and is preparing a plan based on the lower spending amount now. The Council approved that amount although I voted against the cut. MCPS, meanwhile, has requested a near 10% increase in construction spending for the new capital budget. The council will have a tough time balancing it all together and I look forward to hearing from the community about the most pressing priorities as we receive the Exec’s new budget on January 17.


Photo by Patch

Daily journal, 10-17-11

Today’s Transportation Committee hearing focused on several issues
that I want to see us move quickly to address. First was pedestrian
safety. As a county we must move to promote walkability so that there
are meaningful alternatives to driving everywhere and clogging the
roads. The County Executive has implemented an effective pedestrian
safety initiative that appears to have had a strong positive effect by
reducing pedestrian crashes.

A big portion of that discussion focused on walkability and school
safety. I was interested to learn that the county reviews data and
makes improvements for a quarter mile “walk shed” for our schools, but
the actual walk shed for that school could be a half mile, three
quarters of a mile, and so on. I plan to discuss this issue more with
our transportation officials and see if there are any changes that we
need to make.

Finally, an invigorating discussion on bikesharing. The county has
pursued federal grants for several years to build a bikesharing
system, as DC and NoVa have done with great success. The revelation
in the meeting for me was viewing the bikesharing operation as an
additional transit system that we can put in place. Already since its
founding just over a year ago, the capital bikesharing program has
generated more than one million trips.

Committee Chair Berliner pushed very hard, noting that our relative
lack of a bikeshare transit system is embarrassing to the county and
needs to be resolved. I asked the County DOT for us to be the first
jurisdiction in the state to apply for a new bikesharing program that
the state government is going to fund on an 80-20 split. As our DOT
pointed out, we will need to figure out where the resources come from
on our end, as these are very tight budget times.

Walk To School Day

This is the spectacular view from my seat at the county’s Walk To
School Day, where I joined superintendent Starr, County Executive
Leggett, and Councilmember Craig Rice. Craig fired up the crowd of
students at James Daly Elementary and I tell you, the sound of
hundreds of kids screaming is something to behold (in a very good
way).

Asked to speak I told the students how when I was a kid I walked 1.2
miles each way almost every day (I biked some too). It was always an
adventure. Eating plums, splashing puddles, making friends,
bickering with them, and trying desperately to get home before I peed
my pants. I think that formative experience of walking hours each day
helps explain why I’ve always preferred to walk to my job (can’t any
more tho) and why to this day I put such an emphasis on walkability in
our community planning.

Good times.

Daily journal, 09-26-11

Today was jam-packed with tough policy issues. First, a conversation
with the Fire Chief as a follow up to our committee meeting last week
on vehicle policy issues. Then a Gov Ops committee meeting where we
debated the level of borrowing we can afford to finance construction
of capital projects like schools, libraries, etc. I recommended, as
did Council president Valerie Ervin, that we should not reduce our
spending in this area because it will shrink our local economy. The
Count Executive is recommending $50 million in cuts to these projects
over the next 2 years.

Then a meeting with community advocates in the BCC cluster who are
opposed to the site that has been chosen for the middle school. I have
to give a shout out here to Cathy Fink, a local musician whose album
Pillow Full of Wishes is absolutely one of our family favorites. It’s
tough getting lobbied by the lady who sings your kids to sleep!

Then to T/E committee to discuss the issue of artificial turf fields.
There have been a lot of concerns raised about them. My conclusion is
that the science certainly raises enough concern to implement testing
but not enough to warrant a moratorium. I am pleased that the parks
department is implementing a rigorous test on runoff and environmental
impacts. That will tell us a lot. I requested lead tests for all our
existing fields and that we explore alternatives to tire crumb for
filler for these fields.

Now I’m prepping for a vigorous discussion tomorrow on the CR family
of zones. We are working to bring new plans to life for communities in
Wheaton, Kensington and Takoma/Langley but we need to get the zones
right or the investment will not come.

I love this job!