This Week’s MACo Testimony – Week of March 17, 2014

March 20, 2014

The MACo staff gave testimony this week on the following bills:

March 18, 2014:

MACo supported a reasonable exception for public works vehicles from certain weight limits.

MACo supported departmental legislation allowing local health departments to retain certain fee revenue for services, rather than revert it to the state general fund (resolving an ambiguity arising from an audit report).

MACo supported legislation enabling county governing bodies to employ a tax refund intercept, through the Comptroller’s office, to help resolve outstanding warrants.

March 19, 2014:

MACo supported the bill an amended bill to clarify tax credits applying to ownership interests, without retroactive effect.

MACo supported legislation clarifying and improving several facets of volunteer fire company funding and allocations.

MACo supported clarifications to laws governing relocatable classrooms and recent air quality standards, avoiding an unintended retroactive effect.

MACo opposed an overbroad defense to local nuisance actions, suggesting that local decisions coudl better accommodate special property owner concerns.

MACo supported broadened allowance for counties to invest trust funds in long-term investments, similar to pension funds.

MACo supported technical changes to this revolving loan fund, allowing proper use of federal funding.

MACo supported an increase in base library funding, with annual increments in per capita amounts for several coming years.

March 20, 2014:

MACo supported bill as amended, providing an intermediate step prior to state sanctions for local errors or noncompliance with state requirements.

MACo supported its initiative bill, creating a collaborative governing board for the statewide MarylandFiRST public safety radio system.

MACo supported the bill an amended bill to clarify tax credits applying to ownership interests, without retroactive effect.

MACo opposed a broadening of numerous occupational disease presumptions to an additional range of employees (paid emergency medical services professionals).

To see online versions of MACo’s written testimony from the 2014 legislative session, click here.


Anne Arundel to Consider Creation of Special Fund for School Construction

March 13, 2014

As reported by The Capital, Anne Arundel Council Member Jamie Benoit plans to introduce legislation to create a special fund using income tax revenue to fund school construction projects in the county. The fund would first be used to build a 13th high school and then go towards other school maintenance and construction projects.

From the article:

The legislation would dedicate 2.5 percent of income tax revenue for the fund. County Auditor Teresa Sutherland estimates that would bring in $10 million a year. The money would be used to leverage the issuing of bonds.

Revenue placed in the fund would come from an increase in the county’s local income tax.

Benoit said that during council budget deliberations in May he will introduce separate legislation raising the county’s piggyback income tax from 2.56 percent to 2.58 or 2.59. This would mean about $10 or $15 a year more on a taxable annual income of $50,000.

Although not yet introduced, the proposal is already being met with mixed views.

Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, who has publicly supported building a high school in Crofton, said he would likely vote in favor of Benoit’s bill but is opposed to raising taxes. Walker said an improving economy will provide an increase in revenue.

“It would make sense to have a dedicated fund set aside for infrastructure projects,” Walker said. “I don’t see why I wouldn’t support it.”

Councilman Derek Fink, R-Pasadena, said while building a 13th high school would mean smaller classes sizes, which he supports, he “would never support any type of tax increase to be able to fund that.”

Councilman Daryl Jones, D-Severn, said he has concerns about whether the bill would affect maintenance of effort — the state rule that per-pupil spending cannot be reduced — and how operating costs are funded. He said he wouldn’t vote for the bill unless those concerns are addressed.


Senate Budget Plan – What’s in it for County Government?

March 13, 2014

As previously reported, the Maryland Senate passed its fiscal 2015 budget plan today closing a larger than expected budget gap resulting from declining state revenues and leaving an approximate $100 million fund balance at the end of fiscal 2015.

In addition to the funding provided to local governments by the Governor in his proposed budget, the Senate approved the following budget actions:

TRANSPORTATION – Provides $10 million to county governments for pothole repairs

COMMUNITY COLLEGES – Although growth continues to be constrained through the formula, funding increases by 5.2% compared to 5.0% in the Governor’s proposed budget

LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENTS – Clarifies that for local health departments, inflationary increases are applied to the prior year appropriation providing for cumulative growth in the formula, instead of being applied to base funding level (additional information on this issue can be found in a previous post on Conduit Street)

EDUCATION FUNDING – Clarifies that, for the purpose of local education maintenance of effort requirements, the wealth per pupil is calculated using September 1 net taxable income for fiscal 2015 through 2017; beginning in fiscal 2018, November 1 net taxable income will be used

STATE DEPARTMENT OF ASSESSMENTS AND TAXATION – Requires the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to establish a workgroup to study the calculation and administration of tax credits and exemptions and authorizes the agency to procure auditing assistance.

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The posts listed below provide a summary of what was funded in the Governor’s Proposed Fiscal 2015 Budget.

Governor’s Budget: No Major County Hits, Limited New Funding
The FY15 Budget for Local Governments – What’s Really Happening?

The following documents summarize the Senate budget plan and all approved actions.

Report on Senate Bill 170 – the Budget Bill and Senate Bill 172 – the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act
Report of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to the Maryland Senate
Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Reprint to Senate Bill 172
Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Reprint to Senate Bill 170


Over 80% of Maryland Roadways Maintained Locally

March 13, 2014

The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) testified in support of HB 1067 on March 4 to incrementally restore Highway User Revenues (HUR) to local governments over a three-year period beginning in fiscal 2016. For decades, local roadways were funded  as one of the modes of transportation receiving 30% of HUR.  This percentage has been reduced to 9.6%.

HB 1067 would reasonably restore local HUR with no effect on the State general fund and no immediate effect on the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). Further, it offers only a partial restoration to a 20% share of HUR, not the full 30%. This approach recognizes the recent commitments to State transportation projects and the State’s ongoing transportation needs.

SHA mileage chartDuring the hearing, MACo was asked to provide information on the number of road miles each county and Baltimore City are responsible for maintaining.  From MACo’s followup letter:

Out of a total of 31,359 road miles, counties are responsible for 21,323 miles and municipalities are responsible for 4,772 miles. Taken together, local jurisdictions are responsible for 83% of the road miles in the State of Maryland.

Restoring HUR is one of MACo’s top priorities for the 2014 General Assembly session.

Coverage of the hearing on HB 1067 can be found on Conduit Street.


Senate Committee Approves $10 Million for Potholes, Closes Budget Gap

March 8, 2014

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, in its full committee budget decisions on Friday, March 7, approved a one-time $10 million grant to counties for pothole repairs. In introducing the budget amendment, Senator Madaleno said its been a very severe winter and its wreaking havoc on our roadways. This funding will assist counties with much needed roadway repairs. A previous blog on Conduit Street, Maryland’s “Year of the Pothole,” highlights the challenges local governments are facing in repairing their roadways.

To bring the budget into balance, the committee also approved taking a larger share of the pension reinvestment dollars and transferring them to the State’s General Fund. As reported by WBAL Radio:

Under pension reform three years ago, Maryland was to pay $300 million above its required pension payment each year to move gradually to fully funding the pension system. Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed capping the payment at $200 million this year to help fill a budget gap.

Now, with a $238 million downward revision in state revenues creating a bigger hole, senators have decided to make only a $100 million payment for fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015. That frees up the remaining $200-million to ease budget pressures.

In making this decision, the committee also approved a plan to gradually increase the payment of reinvestment funds back to the full $300 million in fiscal 2019.

The Senate budget panel decided to slowly increase the payments in future years. For example, the panel decided to bring the additional payment up to $150 million in fiscal year 2016, $200 million in fiscal year 2017 and $250 million in fiscal year 2018. In fiscal year 2019, the full $300 million payment would be made.

The Maryland State Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees expressed support for this approach during the meeting.

More information on the State’s revenue write down and its effect on the State’s budget can be found in a previous post on Conduit Street.


Conduit Street Shortcuts

March 7, 2014

2014 Legislative Issues

MACo Initiatives
Bill Tracking
MACo testimony
Issue Papers
Committee Schedule

Hot Topics

Bail Reform
County Budgets
Education
Land Use
Transportation

Important Documents/Links

MD General Assembly

Fiscal Briefing
MACo Testimony Summary

Budgets & Tax Rates
Salary Survey
Local Finances

Spending Affordability

FY2015 Budget

Summary Docs
County Effects

Highlights
Presentation
Press ReleaseBudget Bill
BRFA Bill
Hearings
MACo coverage

Capital Budget
Project Map


This Week’s MACo Testimony – Week of March 3, 2014

March 7, 2014

The MACo staff gave testimony this week on the following bills:

March 4, 2014:

MACo opposed the original version of this bill, creating several new and more rigid requirements for hiring and firing of county health officers.  MACo and county health officers have since worked with the sponsor, the Department, and supported an amended version of the bill, which is still pending in its House Committee.

A MACo panel and other county officials supported this incremental phase-in of a share of state transportation revenues back to local governments as Highway User Revenues.  This bill, arising from MACo’s 2014 legislative initiative, represents an incremental approach without upending the most immediate major state projects.

MACo opposed this bill, which would completely phase out local boards of electricians, and largely minimize county oversight over these licensees.

MACo opposed legislation targeting MACo and MML, which could have a chilling effect on governmental participation in policy affairs, and would create disparities in the treatment of different counties’ representation means.

March 5, 2014:

MACo suggested amendments to these bills authorizing special development zones around colleges and universities, seeking local agreement with the zone prior to any tax credits that affect the local government revenue streams.

MACo opposed legislation opening counties to more lawsuits arising from the use of artificial turf fields.

MACo supported a bill requiring studies of pollution and management practices surrounding the Conowingo Dam, whose federal permit is pending federal re-approval.

MACo supported legislation to incrementally adjust the per capita funding for public libraries across the state.

MACo opposed legislation expanding the breadth of considerations for state-granted permits, citing both cost and administrative concerns.

MACo supported greater “public access” laws for recreational projects, with amendments clarifying their intent and place within currently adopted recreation plans.

MACo supported an additional bill to fully restore the traditional 30% share of Highway User Revenues funding to local governments.

March 6, 2014:

MACo supported legislation authorizing additional federally-supported bonds for targeted school construction projects.

MACo supported this bill to improve the “nonrecurring costs” process for county school funding.  The bill would better enable counties with one-time spending needs or one-time revenue capacity to direct funding toward school budgets, without triggering the perpetual funding requirements.

MACo opposed a broad expansion of tax credits, citing substantial fiscal concerns and lack of local autonomy.

MACo opposed changes to the tax treatment of home equity loans, but expressed interest in helping to resolve technical or administrative issues that may have given rise to the bill.

MACo supported granting local governments authority to withdraw local business license for multiple offender businesses.

MACo supported an additional bill to fully restore the traditional 30% share of Highway User Revenues funding to local governments.

MACo opposed a proposal to create reimbursement rates for physician-dispensed medications, citing substantial cost increases under workers’ compensation in particular.

MACo supported granting charter counties flexibility to conduct special elections for county executive races, which is currently not allowed under the state constitution.

MACo opposed broad new collective bargaining rights for all community colleges, citing both administrative burdens and expected salary and cost inflation.

March 7, 2014:

MACo opposed a change to allowances for equipment depreciation, which could have dramatic fiscal effects on both the state and county income taxes.

To see online versions of MACo’s written testimony from the 2014 legislative session, click here.


Lt. Governor Addresses MACo Legislative Committee

March 6, 2014

Lt. Governor Anthony Brown addressed MACo’s Legislative Committee on Wednesday, March 5 to discuss issues of importance pending before the Maryland General Assembly.  Lt. Governor Brown began by thanking our local elected officials for their service and for working in partnership with the Administration. He then discussed the Administration’s priorities for the session.

Lt. Governor Brown Addressing MACo's Legislative Committee

Lt. Governor Brown Addressing MACo’s Legislative Committee, Courtesy of Executive Office of the Governor

With respect to the fiscal 2015 budget, he commented that the most controversial item is transfer of the $100 million in pension reinvestment savings to the State’s General Fund. He said that it is his hope that “pensions are not looked to to balance the budget in the future.”

A major initiative of the Lt. Governor’s is the expansion of Pre-K education. He commented that a modest step is being taken in the fiscal 2015 budget towards mandatory Pre-K and that he hopes that by 2018, half-day Pre-K will be instituted across the state.  He would like to have full day Pre-K in place in 2022.   As Pre-K is expanded, he said we should leverage non-profit early childhood providers.

The Lt. Governor also commented on raising the minimum wage and the administration’s domestic violence package.

Dorchester County Commissioner, Richard Price, asked the Lt. Governor about the loss of Highway User Revenue (HUR). In response, the Lt. Governor stated that he would like to “lock in a formula that could be fully funded from year to year.”  He said he would also look at what is in arrears and then determine “what can reasonably be made good on over a period of time.”

Members of the MACo Legislative Committee include representatives from Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City. Each county gets one vote on the Legislative Committee. The committee meets regularly on Wednesdays at the MACo office during the General Assembly Session. During the interim, the committee meets quarterly to develop legislative priorities for the coming year.

Note: An original version of this article inadvertently left the impression that the Lieutenant Governor supported the long term use of pension funds to resolve the state budget shortfalls. The error has been corrected, and the correct phrasing (…it is his hope that “pensions are not looked to to balance the budget in the future.”) appears above. MACo regrets the error.


Appropriations Committee Hears Legislation to Restore HUR

March 6, 2014

Legislation to restore Highway User Revenues (HUR) to local governments received a positive hearing this week before the House  Appropriations Committee.  HB 1067, sponsored by Delegate Wendall Beitzel, was introduced at the request of MACo as an approach to reasonably restore HUR to local governments. For decades, local roadways were funded  as one of the modes of transportation receiving 30% of HUR.  This percentage has been reduced to 9.6%.

During the hearing, MACo was represented by its Past President and Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt, Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine,  Queen Anne’s County Public Works Director Todd Mohn, and its Legislative Director Andrea Mansfield. The panel discussed  the effects of HUR reductions on road maintenance and the challenges of maintaining county roadways when faced with more severe winter weather …POTHOLES EVERYWHERE!

From MACo’s written testimony:

With the recent expansion of transportation revenues, MACo feels strongly that it is now time for local governments to again play a more significant role in the State’s transportation funding plan.

HB 1067 would reasonably restore local HUR over a three-year time frame beginning in FY 2016. There is no effect on the State general fund and no immediate effect on the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and it offers only a partial restoration to a 20% share of HUR, not the full 30%. This approach recognizes the recent commitments to State transportation projects and the State’s ongoing transportation needs.

Also testifying in support of the bill were Garrett County Commissioners Gregan Crawford and Bob Gatto. When discussing the challenges of maintaining roadways in Garrett County, Commissioner Gatto stated, “We all know it costs more to repair, than to maintain.”



Allegany County Adds Supervisor Position to Tax and Utilities Office

March 3, 2014

Allegany County Commissioners voted this past Thursday to create an assistant supervisor position for the tax and utilities office.  According to Brian Westfall, the county’s personnel director, the additional position is necessary to manage an increase in utility customers as well as certain program requirements.  From the Cumberland Times-News:

“During recent years, an additional 2,000 utility customers have been added to the county water and sewer systems. … The tax sale program has also grown in both volume and complexity, with strict legal requirements and timelines,” according to Westfall’s memo. There is currently no backup to that department supervisor, Westfall said.

The article additionally reported on funding for projects discussed at the Thursday commissioners meeting such as a new water service project, animal shelters, and the Rocky Gap Lodge.  For the full article, visit the Cumberland Times-News website. 


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