We are less than one month from the 2016 election. It will surprise no one who receives this newsletter that I strongly support Hillary Clinton. She is the only candidate offering concrete solutions related to jobs and the economy, education, and the environment. For information about how to volunteer for Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates, visit www.mcdcc.org.
One of the major issues on the ballot here in Montgomery County is the question of term limits for the County Council and County Executive. I will write a future email with my own thoughts on candidates up and down the ballot and on the ballot questions, but I would encourage those of you considering your vote on term limits to read the background paper prepared by Paul Bessel and Barbara Braswell on the topic.
You can always keep up with what I am doing by following me at @mkorman on Twitter or clicking "Like" on Delegate Marc Korman on Facebook.
Each year the Montgomery County Delegation holds a series of meetings in Rockville before the start of the legislative session. The meetings include a discussion of transportation projects, a local priorities hearing where interested residents can tell us their priorities, and hearings on legislation that only affects Montgomery County. You can find the full calendar online.
A major priority for me has been working with all levels of government to improve traffic and pedestrian safety. River Road has been particularly concerning. I was pleased to join with federal and county representatives in asking the State Highway Administration to declare the stretch of River Road near Whitman High School a school zone to allow for a lower speed limit. You can read the letter here.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”) is one of our best tools to help those in need because it is refundable. Currently, eligibility is based on income and having children ($48,000 in income or less, depending on the number of children, makes you eligible). Participation by those eligible in Maryland is at 79%. In this year's budget, the legislature requested a report from the Comptroller's office about expanding participation. The Comptroller recently sent over the report, which discusses how other states such as California and Minnesota has stepped up outreach and suggests several options for Maryland including working with other agencies that provide services to those in need, use census and geospatial data to target particular areas with concentrated outreach, use tax records to identify those who qualify but are not obtaining the EITC, and more. I hope Maryland will move forward with a combination of options to make sure that those eligible for the tax credit are receiving it.
A separate issue is expanding eligibility for the EITC, something that was part of tax negotiations during the last session but did not pass. That should also be revisited.
Maryland's Bureau of Revenue Estimates issued its updated forecasts for state revenue yesterday. I have included the link at the bottom of this post. The news media has pointed out that a large revision downward has been made. For FY16 (which ended in June), we can now compare the actual figures to the estimates and can see that the estimates were off by $250 million. For FY17, we are dealing entirely with projections and revenue estimates have been reduced by $365 million, although revenue is still projected to increase by about $187 million (something that seems to have gotten lost in the media). The largest individual component of revenue is income taxes and these downward revisions reflect an economy not moving along fast enough (they may also reflect some problems with how these projections are calculated).
Maryland has a complex process for determining its total capital budget (the funds it spends on infrastructure, as opposed to operating costs) each year. One part of that process is the recommendation of the Capital Debt Affordability Committee ("CDAC"), which is made up of the Treasurer, the Comptroller, the Secretary of Budget, the Secretary of Transportation, and a Gubernatorial appointee (note a majority of appointees answer directly to the Governor). CDAC recommends some overall guidance on the capital budget that then goes to the Spending Affordability Committee (a legislative panel) which determines overall levels of operating and capital spending for the legislature to follow. Both budgets follow basic guidelines such as debt as a percentage of revenue to make sure that the state can afford its obligations.
CDAC recently recommended keeping the overall capital budget flat at $995 million, the same amount it was last year and that the Department of Budget and Management proposes for the next few years. That is a large number, but it may be the case that it is being kept artificially low so that of investing more and, therefore, paying a bit more in interest, the Administration can save money for a potential tax cut down the line. With interest rates where they are, this is a good time for governments to borrow and invest in schools, transit, roads, and other infrastructure.
The materials from the CDAC meeting and report are available on the Treasurer'swebsite.
One of the conditions to the Pepco-Exelon merger was that the company would provide $500,000 for a consultant-driven study on the electric grid of the future (condition 14). Yesterday, the Public Service Commission (the state regulator of our utilities) launched a proceeding which it describes as "a targeted review of electric distribution systems in Maryland to ensure that they are customer-centered, affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable." The linked press release lists several topics that will be reviewed including important issues related to interconnection of distributed energy resources (such as solar) and protecting low income rate payers. One of the topics especially important to me is energy storage (such as batteries that can be paired well with renewables) and how to value it.
I have been working on energy storage since being elected and am happy to see the state agency taking an interest in it. I look forward to monitoring the progress of the proceeding and seeing where legislative participation may be necessary.
I should note that the start of the proceeding is good news, but the press release describes a "targeted", somewhat narrow review. The merger condition called for a broader initiative regarding the "grid of the future." Our grid is changing rapidly and the business models of electric utilities has to change with it. I hope this proceeding includes that broader discussion.
Many people have sent emails regarding the Governor’s Executive Order imposing changes to the school calendar, specifically requiring the school year to begin after Labor Day and end by June 15. The Attorney General’s office issued an advisory letter on the issue. The opinion of the Attorney General's office is that the Executive Order likely exceeds the Governor's authority and that the legislature could statutorily overturn the Executive Order if it so chose.
The Montgomery County Board of Education has begun to consider its calendar for the next school year. Click here to read the memo on the options under consideration here.
I have previously written about Metro’s proposal to permanently cut late night hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. A public hearing will be held on October 20regarding the proposal. Metro has claimed this service reduction is necessary because of the need for more maintenance hours. To be sure, Metro must absolutely do more to improve maintenance, but I would encourage anyone who believes Metro needs to reduce hours more than other two track systems around the country to achieve that goal to read a recent report regarding how Metro currently does maintenance. The waste of time and resources is unacceptable.
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