Maryland Board of Public Works – 3/4 Agenda

Maryland’s Board of Public Works reviews projects, contracts, and expenditure plans for state agencies – many of which have effect on county governments. It meets on alternating Wednesdays and the meetings are open to the public.  March 4th’s meeting will be held at 80 Calvert Street, Assembly Room, Annapolis, MD 21401.

The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 4, 2015. Material for the upcoming meeting is available online:

For “frequently asked questions” about the Board’s charge and meetings, visit the Board’s website.

MACo Amendments Ease Safety Plan Burden on Small Contractors and Procurement Officials

MACo Legislative Director Andrea Mansfield testified before the Senate Finance Committee today in support of SB 279 with amendments. A crossfile of HB 404 heard earlier this week, this bill would require a prospective bidder or offeror for a public works project over $100,000 to submit a public safety plan and an attestation that the plan meets certain requirements as part of the procurement process.

SB 279 is nominally the product of a workgroup that examined issues related to occupational safety and health plan prequalification and developed recommendations on these requirements during the interim. In speaking about the suggested amendments, Ms. Mansfield expressed concern that the bill’s requirements varied from the workgroup’s recommendations and that certain requirements could negatively affect small contractors and procurement officials. She further commented, “Larger companies may have staff to develop and monitor the rigorous safety plans envisioned under the bill, but smaller companies may not be able to afford staff or to contract out for this purpose, even if they engage in safe practices. The administrative burden of this requirement could make it extremely difficult for a smaller contractor to comply, disqualifying the contractor from bidding altogether.” MACo’s suggested amendment would increase the threshold to $1 million to better target higher risk projects and lessen the effect on smaller contractors.

Other suggested amendments would require the attestation of a safety plan be submitted to a procurement official at contract award, not as a part of the selection process; clarify that the completion of the safety questionnaire and additional safety measures do not impede work on a project; and protect local jurisdictions from any deficiencies in safety plans or safety-related issues that may occur at a worksite.

Ms. Mansfield urges the committee to accept these amendments to lessen the effects of this legislation on contractors and procurement officials.

Read MACo’s written testimonyonline, or visit MACo’s Legislative Database to see all county impact bills and MACo positions.

Counties Back Justice Reinvestment Bill

MACo Policy Analyst Natasha Mehu presented testimony on February 26 to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee supporting SB 602, Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council. This bill establishes a Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council run through the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. This council would help to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the detention system so that resources can be refocused on increasing public safety and reducing recidivism.

The written testimony states:

MACo believes that the proposed Council will be well-served by a representative from a local detention center. Public safety is the third largest component for county spending. The primary purpose of local detention centers is to hold individuals awaiting trial or those sentenced for less than 18 months. Increased incarceration and longer sentences have left local detention centers overcrowded and overburdened.

For more on MACo’s 2015 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

MACo Backs Smart, Flexible Approach on Body Cameras

SB 482, Public Safety – Law Enforcement Officers – Body-Worn Cameras, was heard in Judicial Proceedings on February 26. MACo Policy Analyst Natasha Mehu testified in support of the bill with amendments. This bill establishes a comprehensive set of requirements for law enforcement officers and law enforcement agencies in regards to body-worn cameras. Body-worn cameras is an innovative technology that can be used as a tool to increase police/community relations and maintain accountability. However, SB 482 removes the local autonomy that is required to effectively use this new technology.

The written testimony explains:

However, body-worn cameras are still an emerging technology. Much is still being learned about the benefits, drawbacks, and limitations of their use as law enforcement agencies begin to adopt and deploy the technology. It is important for agencies to have set and clear policies on the use of cameras that garner the trust of the public. However, statewide requirements need to be balanced against local management. SB 482 should be amended to provide law enforcement agencies with greater flexibility to manage the protocols and protections that should be put in place to ensure video recordings are not widely available under public records requests.

MACo’s recommended amendments include:

  • Local flexibility for camera use and record retention protocols
  • Limiting public records requests

For more on MACo’s 2015 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

MACo On Tax Incentives: Keep Local Flexibility

As policy debate in Annapolis focuses on targeted tax relief with numerous proposals being considered, MACo adopted a broad policy position seeking to clarify its general position on tax incentives and local decision-making. The statement will be widely shared, along with MACo’s formal testimony on specific legislation, as these proposals are debated during the session.

The full statement can be downloaded as a pdf file online.

Tax Incentives and Local Government Autonomy

Counties want to be partners in promoting economic growth and creating opportunity – we prefer local autonomy in determining the best way locally. MACo opposes State-mandated reductions in local revenue sources, but welcomes tools to grant county options and flexibility to pursue their own parallel tax incentives, or to develop others to suit their local needs.

The General Assembly routinely considers proposals to change tax structures, often seeking to stimulate economic growth, encourage beneficial activities, or attract and retain residents. These proposals often are focused exclusively on the state’s tax structure, but sometimes extend to local revenues as well.

In general, MACo stands for local self-determination. Counties, led by their elected leaders who are directly accountable within the community, are in the best position to make decisions on local affairs – ranging from land use to budget priorities. MACo steadfastly guards this local autonomy, and frequently argues against statewide solutions that mandate county compliance, or otherwise override local decision-making.

The State has many avenues to provide either broad or targeted tax relief. Credits against the state income or corporate taxes can direct tax reductions based on individual demographics or specific business activities. The State may use “sunny day funds” or comparable economic development instruments to help solidify negotiated assistance for targeted projects. These mechanisms can effect policy goals without an unwelcome mandate on local revenue systems, threatening county funding for essential public services.

State proposals that involve local revenue sources can be enacted as “local option” offerings, to allow counties maximum flexibility to achieve local goals. MACo urges State policymakers to primarily consider these tools as the best means to incorporate local tax relief as part of a broader policy.

MACo and county governments stand ready to work with state policymakers, to jointly develop flexible local opportunities to pursue beneficial incentives.

MACo Supports Saving Counties Money on Seized Animals

MACo Policy Analyst Natasha Mehu testified on February 26 to the Judicial Proceedings Committee in support of SB 393, Criminal Law – Costs of Care for Seized Animals. This bill places liability of cost for an animal seized for cruelty or neglect on the owner of the animal while the animal is in shelter. The cost of care for seized animals accumulates quickly and can be significant; costs to local governments can run upwards of $100,000.

The among specific examples of costs to the counties, the written testimony states:

Maryland is one of the few states that does not have safeguards in place so that local animal control agencies and shelters are not left alone to shoulder the costs of caring for these animals. Often these animals are suffering from the abuse and neglect, and are in need of special care. SB 393 places a fair burden on the owner to support this care.

For more on MACo’s 2015 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

Analysts Target Ag Preservation, Rural Legacy For $18m Cuts

The Department of Legislative Services, the legislative staff agency, has offered a recommendation that the capital budget funding for two programs – Agrcultural Land Preservation and Rural Legacy – be reduced by roughly half for the coming year. The two cuts would total nearly $18 million.

The recommendation is included as part of the DLS analysis of the capital budget for the Department of Agriculture, and also references the Department of Natural Resources (DLS capital analysis not yet available). The funds at hand are from state general obligation (GO) bonds.

The explanation for the proposed cut is to create “parity” with funds being used to replace Program Open Space – a target for funding reductions in the current year’s budget. From the DLS report, referencing the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation:

As noted above, the fiscal 2016 funding for MALPF includes $22.7 million in GO bond funding that essentially replaces prior year funding redirected to the general fund. However, there appears to be an inequitable distribution of this replacement funding for land preservation programs in the fiscal 2016 capital budget. As shown in Exhibit 7, both MALPF and the Rural Legacy Program – budgeted with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – receive full replacement funding for prior funds, while Program Open Space – also budgeted with DNR – receives only 49.8% of the programmed replacement funding.

DLS recommends that the MALPF GO bond authorization be reduced by $11.4 million to reflect the same replacement funding percentage received by Program Open Space.

DLS also appears set to recommend that Rural Legacy funds be reduced by $6.3 million, in a forthcoming analysis of the Department of Natural Resources.

MACo Supports Independent Financial Analysis of Education Funding Waivers

On February 26, Robin Clark, MACo’s Policy Analyst, testified to the House Ways and Means Committee in support of HB502, State Department of Education – Financial Advisory Board – Establishment. This bill would create a Financial Advisory Board to review and analyze a county board’s application for a maintenance of effort funding waiver based on local fiscal conditions. The maintenance of effort law mandates that a county provide the same amount of funding per pupil towards education each year. There are limited opportunities for a county to apply for a one-year waiver from the mandate, one of these is a waiver based on local fiscal conditions significantly impeding the county’s ability to meet the level of funding required.

The Financial Advisory Board would provide the State Superintendent with advice on six factors relating to a county’s fiscal condition for her preliminary assessment of a county’s waiver application. The Financial Advisory Board would also prepare a plain English analysis of the waiver application for the public.

The written testimony explains:

This bill properly provides a financial analysis where appropriate and selects a suitable body to produce that analysis. At the same time, the legislation preserves the ultimate authority of the State Board over the grant of the waiver.

For more on MACo’s 2015 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

State and Local Sector Wage Growth Outpaced By Private Sector

An article in the magazine Governing details “wage stagnation” in the public sector, showing that in recent months (and the time since the “great recession”) private sector employment has lagged other segments of the economy.

From the article:

At its peak in 2008, these governments had 19,748,000 employees. In the six years after that, states and localities shed an estimated 565,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

With a smaller workforce, one might expect wages to go up as the national economy improves. But because state and local revenues have not returned to their 2007 levels, wage increases have been modest at best. State and local government wages and salaries increased by 1.6 percent in the 12-month period ending last December, compared with a private-sector increase of 2.2 percent over the same period, according to the BLS.

Read the full article on the Governing website.

Senate President Weighs In On Stormwater Fees With Broad Bill

Maryland Senate President Miller introduced his own bill (with a majority of the Senate signed on as co-sponsors) on February 25, 2015 that would repeal the stormwater fee mandate for Maryland’s nine largest counties and Baltimore City.

According to the Capital Gazette, Senate Bill 863: Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs – Revisions, would

…would require those local governments to submit a report on how they plan to pay for storm-water pollution projects required of them by the federal government to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

“This has been a very contentious issue that I believe this proposal will help resolve,” Miller said in a statement announcing introduction of his bill. With 30 cosponsors, including 11 Republicans, it appears sure to pass the 47-member Senate.

“This legislation maintains flexibility for county governments while still ensuring that they can meet their obligations to protect and clean up the bay,” Miller said.

The main elements of the bill include:

  • repeals the mandated stormwater fee, currently imposed on 10 counties
  • requires the 10 counties to prepare annual reports on their plans, progress, and financial assurances regarding their EPA-issued federal stormwater permits
  • eliminates any fee on veterans organizations, caps any fees on other nonprofit organizations, and mandates a “financial hardship” process for nonprofits to reach alternatives to paying the fee
  • requires counties employing a fee to label it in collection documents as in response to federal stormwater management requirements

    Read the full bill text online. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing, and due to its late introduction is currently in the Senate Rules Committee (a reassignment to one or more standing committees is likely in the days ahead).