MCTL Meeting of July 26, 2012:
Our questions (sent to him in advance) and
Del. Brian Feldman’s responses at the meeting:
(1) How influential is the Montgomery County delegation in standing up for the taxpayers of the county? Though the largest and, what many consider, the most intellectually superior delegation in the state, why is it that our delegation is constantly trumped by the interests of other delegations? What are some of the challenges you face in representing the interests of Montgomery County?
Montgomery County has 17% of the state’s voters. The rest of the state thinks we have everything such as the Intercounty Connector, Strathmore Hall, Metro subsidy, etc. Therefore, they are not sympathetic to our funding requests. Montgomery College receives a lot of state funding with education always being the biggest budget issue. Montgomery County also receives indirect benefits such as easy availability of a college education at the University of Maryland, where 17,000 Montgomery County residents attend. There is also disagreement over how to measure wealth. Our county gets major financial support from the state for education. A major problem is that there are very few Montgomery County residents in state-wide positions of power such as the Governorship, committee heads in the Senate and House of Delegates, etc. Another problem is that unlike other jurisdictions such as Baltimore City, the County delegation is often split. For example, those in down-county are very interested in the Metro’s proposed Purple Line while those in up-county are interested in other issues.
Delegate Feldman acknowledges that the greatest state failing has been funding for the Highway Trust Fund, from which funds have often been taken for other uses. The need now is to grow the Trust Fund, as was proposed by the Governor’s request to raise gasoline taxes. However, Prince Georges County and Baltimore City are opposed to a gas tax increase (because the tax would be hardest on the poorest).
(2) Almost all the members of our county delegation supported what we taxpayers see as destructive amendments to the Maintenance of Effort l(MOE) aw. Could you give us an explanation as to why you chose to support this law which is essentially a maintenance of emolument law? Witness the recently negotiated increase to the salaries and not one, but 2, step increases for MCPS employees. Why does the delegation consider education so sacrosanct that it has, in effect, created a lock box to protect education interests?
The top 7 schools in the state are in Montgomery County, one reason why people move to the county. Although Education Week has rated Maryland schools number one in the nation for several years, if Montgomery schools were removed from the ranking the state would place about 24th. The original reason behind the MOE law was to make sure that counties did not shortchange education. In the recent session in Annapolis the law made changes to the waiver process. This will require the state Board of Education to consider if a county has previously exceeded the funding level required by the MOE formula.
Delegate Feldman said the only 3 states (Maryland being one) pay 100% of teacher pension costs. With the recent change the state will be paying 2/3 of the cost with the counties share being phased in over 4 years. The county’s share is a very minor burden on the county budget, which is nearly $4 billion. Maryland is one of eight states with a triple-A bond rating. Delegate Feldman acknowledges he is not an expert on education. He said our County Council has made no request to the state for more control over the county’s Board of Education. He feels that education groups have now gotten all they are going to get for the future because the state will now devote its attention to transportation.
(3)What role did the county delegation play in allowing Annapolis to raise income taxes such that 40 percent of the burden of higher state income taxes falls on Montgomery County taxpayers? Also, Maryland has some of the highest individual and corporate taxes in the country. Does the delegation support further tax increases? If yes, what are your plans for attracting businesses to the state and preventing an exodus of individual taxpayers?
Not addressed due to time constraints.
(4)What was the rationale behind the shift of teacher pension costs to the county? This would appear to be unnecessary and harmful to Montgomery County taxpayers especially as the state has never fully funded pensions and with the new amendments to the Maintenance of Effort law has given the Board of Education absolute authority to raise salaries with no responsibility for its effect on future pension obligations.
For the first question see response to (2) above. As to the “absolute authority” of the Board of Education, it is Montgomery County voters who have opted to elect members of the school board.
(5)What strategy has the delegation devised to prevent what has been a dereliction of duty by the Public Service Commission in its oversight of PEPCO?
The law now mandates performance standards for PEPCO. And PEPCO can’t be fined so much that it goes bankrupt. As for the county purchasing PEPCO it is a very complex situation. Much of PEPCO is at least 50 years old. The purchase cost could be $1 billion; does the county really have that kind of money? Additionally, the county is served not only by PEPCO but also by Potomac Edison
(6) What role did our delegation play in the constant raiding of the Transportation Fund in previous years? Will the proposed gasoline tax pass this coming year? If yes, how will the tax prevent such depredations of the Fund in the future?
The Transportion Trust Fund There needs to be demarcated so that it cannot be used for purposes other than transportation. It’s time for an increase in the state’s gasoline tax.
(7) What is the delegation’s position on the Governor’s initiative on gambling and casinos?
The proposal to expand gambling will pass the Senate but is questionable in the House. Many county delegations are divided on the issue, Prince Georges being one. The Montgomery delegation would want something in return for supporting gambling as the County is not directly affected. The problem with gambling is the economic assumption. The whole question is very complicated.