Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

Maryland

Maryland Public Policy Institute Proposes “Rain Tax” Alternatives

From a research report published by the Maryland Public Policy Institute February 26, 2015:

“The BRF [Bay Resoration Fund] reports in its 2015 Annual Status Report that $290 million had been transferred to the General Fund over the years to temporarily bridge gaps in the state budget. The money was replaced, but with General Obligation (GO) Bonds…The CACBTF [Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bay Trust Fund] fared much worse. [Former Governor] O’Malley took more than $40 million from it over the years ($8 million in 2010, $19 million in 2011, $8 million in 2014, and an anticipated $6.2 million set aside for transfer in 2015) for the General Fund, and there’s no mention of replacing the money with matching GO Bonds, let alone actual revenue. That’s just money the state raised for Bay cleanup that went elsewhere….Before spending billions to build a better storm drain system, Maryland needs to address the overwhelming amount of nutrient-dense sediment that has accumulated in the Conowingo Dam at the northern end of the Bay.”

Read the full report.

 

 

Proposed Independent Transit Authority: Stunning, foolish and unconscionable

Note:  The proposal  to create an independent transit authority has been withdrawn by County Executive Ike Leggett.

President Joan Fidler was among 75 people who gave testimony January 30, 2015, before the Montgomery County delegation to Annapolis.  Her testimony was in opposition to House of Delegates Bill MC 24-15, which would have provided enabling legislation for the County Council to create an independent transit authority.

“The bill is stunning in its scope as it will create an unelected body that does not have to submit its budget to the Council,…foolish in its strategy.  It trumpets to Annapolis that we do not need State funding….unconscionable in its treatment of the voters of Montgomery County.  It will allow an unelected body…to raise property taxes above the charter limit.”

The full text of her testimony can be found here.

Two Takes on The County’s Delegation to Annapolis

We present two opposing views of the Montgomery County’s 32-member delegation to Annapolis: A column by Josh Kurtz of CenterMaryland.com and a rebuttal by Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D), representing Legislative District 15.

From Josh Kurtz writing in CenterMaryland.org on

“As for the heads of the county’s legislative delegation, Sen. Nancy King (D) is the kind of “don’t rock the boat” Montgomery lawmaker that Senate President Mike Miller (D) likes to promote, while Del. Shane Robinson (D) is the epitome of the mild-mannered do-gooder that the county often breeds. Nice people, but no one’s idea of strategic-minded brawlers.”

The response from Kathleen Dumais writing in CenterMaryland.org on

“Kurtz’s  implication that “brawlers” are necessary for success is blatantly false. In fact, generally, I do not find “brawlers” to be particularly effective. The key to negotiating is knowing when to apply pressure and push – strategically.”

 

 

 

Montgomery Needs More State Funding for School Construction

From BethesdaNow.com, Nov. 17, 2014:
“North Bethesda Middle School’s cafeteria is so crowded during lunch that it’s almost impossible to walk between the tables. Portables are likely headed to Walt Whitman High School next year.   By January, Pyle Middle School might have 1,500 students — more than six county high schools…Those are just three of the many reasons why local parents went before the Board of Education last week to testify in support of Superintendent Joshua Starr’s request for $220 million in additional school construction funding.” 
The county has 155K students of which 11K are in “portable” classrooms.  Our county school population grows by the equivalent of one senior high school every year.
And here’s what the state has been doing with our tax money:

This year, O’Malley for the first time dipped into the state’s general funds to pay for debt service. With housing prices stalled, Hogan is facing far larger debt service payments coming from the general fund starting next year.

The situation was made worse by O’Malley’s decision to pay some on-going budget expenses with proceeds from state bonds. This diversion has taken nearly $2.5 billion out of the state’s construction program and has increased debt service markedly.” 
And that’s why we won’t get school construction funds anywhere near what we need even though we have the largest delegation (8 Senators, 24 Delegates) in Annapolis.

“Benefits of Maryland’s tax credits for films are questioned”

From The Washington Post of November 16, 2014:

A tax credit used to reward “House of Cards” and other productions for filming in Maryland costs taxpayers far more than they get in return and should be scrapped, according to a new report to the General Assembly.

Read the full story.

Our take:

So Netflix wins and Maryland taxpayers lose.  “House of Cards” may indeed be a true house of cards for the taxpayers of Maryland.  Our legislators, it appears, were clearly dazzled by the star power at a wine bar reception hosted by the show earlier this year and voted for tax credits, $11.5 million to be exact for FY 2014.  And this for just this one show.  Wonder how much pre-K education that would buy?

Our legislators claim that tax credits for film makers produce 3,700 jobs and $100 million in economic activity.  Not so says a new report by Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services that scores all bills. We get only 10 cents for every $1 in tax credits we grant to film and television producers.

Budgets and funding are a matter of choices.  Decisions by our legislators very clearly reveal their priorities.

“WSSC water rate torture”

Gordie Brenne, vice president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, had his letter to the editor published in The Montgomery Gazette of August 27, 2014:

Congratulations! You’re using less water than ever due to improved conservation and appliance efficiency. Your reward is higher charges! Recently WSSC laid out plans for higher fees in a Council hearing. This is on top of rate increases every year for the last eight years of 5-8 percent.

WSSC management says the problem is unstable revenues in the face of all your conservation. The real problem is weak cost controls, as operating and capital improvement costs continue to increase. WSSC is huge, with 1,700 employees and annual budget of $1.3 billion.

Are costs difficult to control because WSSC is too large, or is it because there are no incentives to lower costs when rate increases are routinely approved? Maybe it’s because WSSC is jointly managed by Montgomery and Prince George’s County’s, and this divided oversight is too lenient?

WSSC water rates are 80-146 percent higher than nearby Fairfax and Howard County’s. Why? How does the productivity of WSSC employees compare? Are WSSC methods for water treatment, distribution, and sewage treatment as efficient? We asked WSSC Managing Director Jerry Johnson in a May meeting about the unbilled water rate. He said WSSCs current unbilled water rate is 16 percent, placing WSSC in the lowest quartile of U.S. operators, and is due to “a system that is not tight enough.” That’s $200 million a year not being collected.

We recommend that the County Council commission an independent study of WSSC costs and controls before any more rate or fee increases are approved. This study should also look at the feasibility of splitting up WSSC by separating the two county operations, as well as privatization and outsourcing of some or all of WSSC operations.

Our Montgomery County Delegation – Do They Really Represent us?

Isn’t it ironic that 11,000 of our school children obtain their education operating out of portable classrooms? We are the largest jurisdiction in the state with the greatest number of students without whom Maryland public schools would not rank number one in the country. And yet our 32-member delegation to Annapolis has failed in securing us the state construction funding we need.

Last May every voting member of our delegation voted to guarantee Baltimore City schools $20 million a year for 30 years for school construction. This special allocation was in addition to the normal allocation of state funds to all the state’s 24 school systems.

Baltimore has about 84,000 students while we have 151,000 – and growing. Baltimore has nearly 200 school buildings while we have 188. Baltimore City covers 81 square miles while Montgomery County covers 507. Perhaps Baltimore needs to consolidate its schools but the political leaders don’t feel the need to do so. Why should they? They have been guaranteed $20 million a year for 30 years.

So while our delegation can find all that money to give to Baltimore, they can’t find enough state money to get our 11,000 students out of portable classrooms. Yes, they did try this election year – but failed. Why? Do they not have enough clout in Annapolis? Is Montgomery County seen as the ATM for Baltimore City and the state? Do our delegates interests coincide with the residents of Montgomery County? Just asking.

— Joan Fidler, President

President Fidler Testifies in Annapolis

MCTL President Joan Fidler testified in Annapolis against a proposal to create a special taxing district to finance transportation needs along Rockville Pike. The League opposes this bill because it is just another way for the county to bypass the voter-approved limitations on the budget.

Her testimony on HB 1279 was given on March 6, 2014, before the House Ways and Means Committee:

I am Joan Fidler, President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, and I am here to share with you our utter dismay and disappointment with HB 1279, Special Taxing Districts, Transportation Improvements and Exemptions from County Tax Limitations.


We register our opposition to the bill for several reasons but mainly because it provides yet another mechanism which, very subtly, does an end run around spending limits set by Montgomery County voters in 2008.  It alters the definition of “cost” as it relates to taxing districts; it includes “certain” operating expenses; it allows a county (such as Montgomery) to set special rates for “any” class of property in a special taxing district and “under certain circumstances” it allows the county to set a property tax rate that is higher than the county tax limitation.  But, of course, you are aware of all that.


This bill is, in effect, an insidious way to raise property taxes by cloaking it in the garb of transportation.  So let’s look at the definition of “cost”; it will now include operating expenses. Let’s look at “certain” operating expenses; as we all know operating expenses like Tennyson’s brook can go on forever.  So if, for example, some of our transportation projects require landscaping, the maintenance of landscaping will be an operating expense and can be added to debt service, a gift that will keep on giving for 30 years.


Next: Setting special rates for “any class of property” which will now include residential property.  Will residential property owners be left holding the bag for the operational expenses of developers?  Witness the special taxing district of White Flint where businesses volunteered and then reneged on paying for improvements – who stepped into the breach? Taxpayers.   


But worst of all, the bill allows counties to set a property tax rate higher than the county limitation.  The voters of Montgomery County expressly set a high bar for all property tax rate increases above the charter limit.  This is an unconscionable attack on the express wishes of the voters of Montgomery County.  Yes, we realize that most of the endorsers of this bill are from Montgomery County and we are also aware that it is our delegates who played fast and loose with charter limit rules for the flawed Maintenance of Effort law. Is it any wonder that our trust is at such a low ebb?

HB 1279 does not merely expand existing authority, it explodes it.  Leave well enough alone.   You just might regain our trust.

Joan Fidler, President

Montgomery County Taxpayers League

Bethesda, MD 20817

“Deferred Payments to the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System”

This email was sent Feb. 27, 2014, to Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller General Peter Franchot supporting them in their opposition to reducing the payments to the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System:

Dear Treasurer Kopp and Comptroller Franchot,

 

We fully support your plea to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to refrain from cutting $100 million in payments to the state retirement system.  Other than a total loss of credibility by state employees of the governor, there is an even greater loss to the entire state of its credibility with the bond rating agencies.  And who will pay for this reckless deferral of payment to the retirement fund?  The taxpayer.

We are quite sure that you must be aware of many ways to find $100 million in a $39 billion budget.  Here is a suggestion:  how about cutting loose the Wall Street firm  to whom we paid advisory fees of $274 million in the last fiscal year for a very disappointing rate of return.  In fact, the Maryland Public Policy Institute reports that the Maryland state pension fund underperformed its entire peer group of pension funds.   How about indexing the portfolio?  Could we do worse?

Sincerely,

Joan Fidler
President
Montgomery County Taxpayers League