The past week in Annapolis has been incredibly busy. On Monday, we reached the "cross-over" deadline I mentioned last week (the deadline by which bills need to pass one chamber to be heard in the other). We are also on the verge of passing a bipartisan budget, an issue of particular importance to me as a member of the Appropriations Committee. Because the Senate has already unanimously passed the operating budget, the legislation will soon go to a "conference committee" of the two chambers.
During the last week, many important pieces of legislation constituents have written to me about have passed the House of Delegates. Some of the notable bills include the increase in the state's renewable energy goal (known as the renewable portfolio standard), an increase in the state's greenhouse gas reduction goal, a limit to the private use of neonicotinoids which can be harmful to our bee population, the establishment of a new process to increase the transparency of our state's transportation funding, and new tools to ensure that people are compensated with equal pay for equal work. The preceding short list just scratches the surface of what was sent to the State Senate during the past week.
Among the bills passed during the last week was the College Affordability Act. The legislation has a number of provisions related to college affordability, including a match for low income families using the Maryland College Savings Plan and keeping students with small unpaid balances to their schools in classes. I was able to amend the bill to include language regarding how the Maryland College Savings Plan markets its programs. Montgomery County has high participation in the program but many counties and regions have low participation. Moreover, Maryland has 247,504 account holders whereas Virginia has 2.4 million account holders, which is quite disproportionate even when controlled for population. My legislation would require the Maryland College Savings Plan to establish a marketing plan with a particular focus on counties and regions that under-participate. For example, we can target Maryland employees in the supplemental retirement savings plan who clearly understand these types of programs as well as the families of school children who would be most interested in this program. The College Affordability Act is a great bill that I hope has been improved by my amendment.
As I mentioned above, the operating budget is also proceeding through the House. The balanced budget funds K-12, higher education and other spending formulas to their full level as provided by law. It also includes funds to support Montgomery County's increased share of teacher pension costs, funds which were identified from other budget savings that it will be up to the Governor to accept. The budget preserves funding for local transportation projects and includes language I worked on with Delegate Aruna Miller to help us begin to improve State Highway Administration operations in our community. The budget funds numerous healthcare programs and sets aside funding to increase the rates paid to providers to ensure they are appropriately compensated for services to our most vulnerable. A full report on the House version of the budget is available here.
Several of you have contacted me regarding the Westbard Sector Plan. As I have expressed in many individual emails, the County Council is currently considering the plan. As a state legislator, I do not have a direct role in the plan's consideration. I try not to provide real-time updates on how I would vote were I in the position of a Councilmember, just as I do not want Councilmembers acting that way towards the work I do in Annapolis. But as someone who regularly goes to Westbard I have some concerns with what is happening there. When the Westbard mall property was sold, the new owner seemed to think they had purchased property above a Metro station or other high frequency transit station. After the Planning Board released its draft plan, I gave some more specific comments on the Planing Board's staff draft on Facebook, many of which still hold true. The most recent County Council staff memos on Westbard are available here and here.
After sharing my initial reaction to Metro's unprecedented closure last week, I received many responses. To my surprise, many readers criticized me for honestly saying that I did not have an immediate answer to what is ailing Metro. It is hard to believe that anyone who receives these emails would want to hear more from me about Metro, but I actually do have quite a few ideas for reform. That said, I recognize that the multi-jurisdictional nature of Metro does not allow me to snap my fingers and accomplish them (which is why I spend time meeting with counterparts in other jurisdictions to discuss these matters).
My biggest concern with Metro is the inherent structural problems it faces. The best General Manager and even a dedicated funding source cannot change the fact that Metro is governed by a Board appointed by two states, a city, and the federal government, meaning accountability is only indirectly linked to our political leadership. The WMATA Compact--which governs Metro--was entered into in 1967. I would like to see its 50th anniversary year next year be an opportunity to revisit the Compact in a comprehensive way.
As for the specific closure, I associate myself with many of the comments in the Washington Post's recent editorial on the closure.
In prior emails, I have discussed the early voting dispute that took place at the Montgomery County Board of Elections this year. There was an effort to remove high traffic sites in favor of new sites in lower population areas. A compromise was eventually worked out to increase the number of early voting sites in Montgomery County to allow retention of existing high traffic sites while trying some new sites. I am pleased that Governor Hogan signed HB 204 into law, which authorizes the additional sites.
District 16 Notes
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