A lot has unfolded since the 2015 legislative session came to a close in April.
I continue to fill my time speaking to constituents about the recent legislative session. If you are part of a group that would like to hear from me, please let me know. I am also happy to answer any individual questions you might have.
Of course, our competitive political system requires me to continue that side of my work. I am having an event on June 6th and would welcome your support. More details are here.
Next month we will return to the normal newsletter format, but below is an overview of recent events.
The Governor's Decisions: Under the Maryland constitution, the General Assembly cannot add funds for programs following the Governor's submission of the budget. But we can make cuts to programs and instruct the Governor to use those savings elsewhere. As you may recall, the General Assembly identified $200 million in savings as part of the balanced budget that was passed in April. The General Assembly asked the Governor to use those savings on several priorities including healthcare and education. Although the Governor accepted the legislature's recommendations for some of the funds, he refused to restore education funding and this amounts to a $17 million cut to Montgomery County Public Schools. This is an actual cut, as Montgomery County will receive half the funding next year as it received this year for this program, called the Geographic Cost of Education Index ("GCEI"). Moreover, in declining to use the funds the Governor has been deeply misleading. The funds cannot be assigned for any other purpose and the Governor's claims otherwise are a mistatement of the law. It is not only Montgomery County that has been harmed, but multiple other jurisdictions including Baltimore City which is in great need of state assistance for education. One silver lining is that the Governor's decision triggers a legal provision that makes these funds "mandatory" spending next year such that the Governor cannot cut them without the approval of the legislature.
The Governor is also in the process of signing and vetoing legislation approved by the General Assembly. I was pleased that the Governor signed my legislation--HB 300--to require a Maryland-specific study of the DC-area Metro system. I have been in communication with staff from the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority about implementing this bill. A complete list of the bills the Governor is signing is available here. To avoid an overly lengthy email, I am not going into detail about the legislation signed by the Governor but there are many important bills among them. That said, the Governor has also chosen to veto a number of bills. A list of six bills the Governor has vetoed, and his explanation, is on his website. I think several of these vetoes addressing criminal justice reform and closing a tax loophole were mistakes and done for largely political reasons. I hope to see these vetoes overridden by the legislature next session. which requires a 3/5 vote of both chambers.
Much more could be said about the end of the legislative session and some of the Governor's troubling decisions since that time including transportation funding changes that will cost almost $300 million in needed maintenance funds over five years, a starkly political line item veto of an arts program, and ongoing delays related to the Purple Line. The Department of Legislative Services has issued its 90 Day Legislative Report which is a comprehensive overview of the legislation considered and passed this year. In future conversations, I would be happy to discuss my concerns surrounding some of the other issues mentioned.
Pepco/Exelon Merger: The Maryland Public Service Commission has issued a decision conditionally approving the merger of Pepco--our local electric distributor--with Exelon, a much larger company that has both distribution and generation assets and already owns another large state utility, BGE. The full decision can be downloaded here. The only approval still pending for the merger to go through is the DC Public Service Commission. I have mixed views about the merger. On the one hand, Pepco's electric reliability and customer service has been less than desirable (granted, there have been some improvements in recent years) and Exelon has a much better reputation in these areas. On the other hand, Exelon's commitment to renewables given its own electric generating assets is questionable. There are also concerns that Exelon is not a local company and the ability to compare an independent BGE and an independent Pepco will be harmful. The PSC's decision includes many conditions such as a $100 rate credit, some investment in renewables and microgrids, and other efforts to avoid the potential harm of the merger. My own view is that we need a much stronger PSC in order to enforce these conditions and make certain we have the electric grid we deserve. Even if the merger ultimately does not go through, a reformed PSC can be used to improve our existing utilities' service. I look forward to working with my colleagues on that issue next year.
Wynne Decision: The Supreme Court recently issued a decision with major tax consequences for Montgomery County. Income earned out of state receives a tax credit against the state income tax, but historically there has not been a credit against the County's piggyback income tax. The Supreme Court has ruled the failure to provide a credit unconstitutional. Montgomery County must now refund taxes that were levied unconstitutionally and, going forward, will be unable to collect that revenue. It is estimated that in future years this will mean approximately $25 million less in yearly revenue. The legislature required the state of Maryland to advance the counties the money for refunding past taxes which the Counties will pay back on a quarterly basis to make it easier for them to absorb the change.
Transit Task Force: One of the most controversial issues for the Montgomery County Delegation during the legislative session was County Executive Leggett's proposal to establish an Independent Transit Authority. After significant public discussion, the legislation was withdrawn. The County Executive subsequently reconvened his transit task force to study the issue. I have been appointed as the House of Delegates representative to the task force. A full schedule of meetings is available if you click on the link.
Bethesda Downtown Plan: District 16 is currently home to two major Montgomery County Planning Board sector plan rewrites: Westbard and Downtown Bethesda. The staff draft of the downtown Bethesda Plan was recently released. I am certain in our vocal community there will be a robust debate about the details of the plan, particularly regarding questions of height and density. I do note that the plan includes some good ideas such as expansion of the Bethesda Circulator, consideration of safer two-way streets that are currently one-way, and three new civic green spaces as well as new greenways and urban parks. As the plan goes before the Planning Board and, eventually, the County Council, there will be significant opportunities for citizen involvement and amendment.
District 16 Notes
There have been many notable achievements by our community members since my last newsletter.
As you may have read, Bethesda Now has been purchased by Bethesda Beat. Steve Hull, publisher of Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Beat, was recently profiled in the Washington Post.
Before Bethesda Now was acquired, it published an interview between Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins and Ann Gallagher with Start School Later to discuss later school start times.
I am excited that the new Student Member of the Montgomery County Board of Education is from District 16. BCC sophomore Eric Guerci will step into the important role.
District 16 constituent Michael Lemov had an op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun on automobile safety, certainly a timely—and timeless—topic.
Several District 16 municipalities recently held elections. Congratulations to Kathleen Cooper, Michael Dorsey, Paula Durbin, David Lewis, and incumbents Clara Lovett, John Mertens, and Melanie Rose White on their elections in the Village of Friendship Heights. Congratulations to Brett Lambet, Michael Cicero, and Dan Silver on their victories in the Village of Drummond. And congratulations to Nancy Long and Dia Costello on their elections in the Town of Glen Echo. Thank you also to those who put themselves out there as candidates and were unsuccessful, a brave act indeed. A particular thank you to long-serving Friendship Heights councilmembers Len Grant, Elizabeth Harris, and Robert Schwartbart, as well as Al Morris (who did not seek reelection) on their years of commitment to the community.
And congratulations to the new leadership of the Luxmanor Citizens Association: Abbe Milstein, Jerry Ostrov, Barry Gudelsky, Connie Walker, and Ed Farber.
If you know of a District 16 resident who merits recognition or condolences, please email email@example.com.
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