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Maryland's Governor has the strongest budgetary authority in the country. The legislature cannot add funds to any line item in the operating budget but only subtract funds. The one way the legislature can fund its priorities when they slightly differ from the Governor is to subtract funds from one line item and say to the Governor that if he wants to use that money, it needs to go towards the priorities stated by the legislature. This is a relatively small give and take (this year, it was $80 million total) within a tens of billions of dollar budget largely controlled by the Governor. Last year, for instance, the Governor decided to fund some of the legislature's priorities such as programs for opiod abuse and a reversal of a cut to state employee pay, while declining to fund the Geographic Cost of Education Index that provided necessary education funding for high cost counties such as Montgomery.
The Governor has made no secret of his distaste for sharing this narrow slice of budget authority--narrower than any other Governor in the country. This year he expressed his intent to support none of the legislature's priorities and he followed through today. The legislature funded the Rainy Day Fund at $1 billion and removed the rest of the Governor's proposed over payment for necessary needs today. The effect of this decision is that Montgomery County will not receive $6 million in support for teacher pensions, healthcare providers will not receive the support necessary to adequately reimburse them for taking Medicaid (low income patients), and many arts programs will not receive small grants.
The complete list of affected programs can be viewed here.
The League of Conservation Voters publishes an annual scorecard on the environmental votes of legislators. I was pleased to scored 100% for the second year in a row. Some of the bills included in the scorecard included an increase to the state's renewable portfolio standard (the amount of electricity we generate from renewable sources)—a bill sponsored by my seatmate Bill Frick and vetoed by the Governor; theGreenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act; the Pollinator Protection Act; and theSustainable Oyster Population and Fishery Act.
The State of Maryland has finished allocating school construction dollars for the current fiscal year. Montgomery County is receiving $50.1 million in Capital Improvement Program and Significant Enrollment Growth funding, the most of any jurisdiction (Baltimore City ends up with more funding overall because of a separate bond program). If you click on the link, Montgomery County's projects begin on page 45. You can see what the County requested and what it obtained.
To be clear, Montgomery County's needs are greater than $50 million and we must continue to push for more funding that takes account of how important Montgomery County's schools are to the entire state and its economy. But this is still a good sign of progress.
As a reminder, SafeTrack continues on the Red Line until August 18. Montgomery County has a detailed website on how to commute during the disruption.
In May, the co-chair of the WMATA-Metro Work Group, Delegate Erek Barron, and I published a blog post on reform ideas for Metro. Metro's General Manager sent us areply a few weeks ago describing some of his own reform efforts. I remain committed to the often thankless work of pushing for Metro reform.
The Metro General Manager has proposed permanently ending Friday-Saturday andSaturday-Sunday service at midnight and closing the system on Sundays at 10pm. I disapprove of this proposal. Metro staff has always seemed to prefer thinking of Metrorail as a commuter system designed to move workers during rush hour instead of a lifestyle system which people can use to really get around the region at all hours for all purposes. This is particularly problematic as the region--and indeed Metro itself--promotes more mixed use development around Metro stations. While I would hope the Metro board will provide oversight of this decision (afterall, that is why we have a Metro board) and request alternatives, I am concerned they will just see the dollar savings and sign off on this short-term move. I appreciate the need to create more time for maintenance, but because system-wide maintenance cannot occur I would prefer an approach that calls for early closures of particular sections at certain times, rather than the whole system.
County Cable Montgomery recently aired an episode of its show, "Neighborhood Niches" on the Town of Somerset in District 16. You can watch the short episode on YouTube.
The Montgomery County Planning Board staff has presented their preliminary recommendations regarding the Rock Spring Master Plan. Rock Spring is the area near Montgomery Mall north of Democracy Boulevard, primarily west of Old Georgetown Road (but including Wildwood Shopping Center), south of 270 and east of Westlake Drive.
The goal of the plan is to reinvigorate the area that is currently largely an office park. The office vacancy rate is 22.3%, higher than the countywide 15% and about to get worse as Marriott plans to depart. The area has been somewhat naturally diversifying, as residential units began opening in 2004 and some other projects are coming on line. The memo's discussion of schools is particularly relevant, as the Walter Johnson Cluster is facing significant space/capacity constraints. The staff seems to be relying on the Superintendent of schools to come up with a plan for the high school, while offering a few options on elementary and middle schools (pgs. 18-19). The memo also suggests elevating the priority of the North Bethesda Transitway, a long-envisioned bus rapid transit line (pg.9), although that is not really discussed in the transportation section of the document and crucial detail about if and how that may actually occur is not explored. The current zoning versus proposed zoning can be reviewed as well (pgs. 12-13). The type of zoning change is marginal but there are proposed changes in heights and density.
Following submission of this memo, planning staff will issue a proposed plan which will then be considered by the Planning Board and, ultimately, the County Council. You can read the planning memo here.
The Planning Board staff has also submitted preliminary recommendations regarding the White Flint 2 Sector Plan, another plan that affects the Walter Johns Cluster (the planning staff has made some efforts to treat them as a package). The White Flint 2 plan area is north and east of the White Flint/Pike District Plan that has begun building out with locations such as Pike and Rose. It is south of the City of Rockville and Twinbrook. The goal is to connect the new "Pike District" to the City of Rockville by extending the treatment of Rockville Pike as a "boulevard" north from White Flint to the city. Generally, it envisions converting a series of strip malls into mixed use developments. Click here to read the planning memo.
Further along in the planning process is the Bethesda Downtown Plan, an update to the sector plan for the downtown Bethesda area. The Planning Board has transmitted its draft to the Montgomery County Council which will begin the process of public hearings and consideration later this year. You can review the plan here.
District 16 Notes
The Daily Record ran a story about District 16 resident Adam Van Grack, who in his "spare time" chairs U.S. Canoe and Kayak. The article is behind a paywall.
Many District 16 residents were confirmed or reconfirmed to County boards over the past month. They include:
A number of County residents have also been appointed or reappointed to the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, on which I used to serve:
If you know of a District 16 resident who merits recognition or condolences, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.