Governor Hogan Announces Decision on Transit Lines, Funds for Roads and Bridges

Governor Hogan announced plans today to move forward with the Purple Line light rail project in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, while at the same time increasing funds for roads and bridges by $1.35 billion. He also announced that the State was not going to move forward with the Red Line light rail project in Baltimore.

As reported by the Washington Post,

Hogan’s backing for the Purple Line marks a significant reversal for a staunch fiscal conservative who strongly opposed the project as too expensive when he campaigned for governor last year.

He said he changed his mind largely because his administration found ways to reduce the state’s share of the cost from close to $700 million to $168 million.

He also responded to pressure from Washington-area politicians and business leaders, who said the project was crucial to improving transit and encouraging economic development in the inner suburbs.

The Governor did put conditions on the project moving forward.

First, the federal government must come through as expected with a recommended $900 million in financing.

Second, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, which the Purple Line will connect, must contribute more to the project.

Hogan’s third condition for building the Purple Line was winning approval for the state’s proposed, cost-saving changes from whatever private company wins the contract to build the project.

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn  was charged with evaluating both the Purple and Red Line projects and making a recommendation on whether to proceed. As reported by the Baltimore Sun ,

Rahn said Thursday the “fatal flaw” of the Red Line project was the plan to rely on a $1 billion tunnel under downtown, Harbor East and Fells Point. He said the administration would try to provide transportation assistance to Baltimore in others ways, but he offered no specifics.

The Governor’s press release provides more detail on the funding for roads and bridges and how it will be used.

Following through on his campaign pledge to provide funding for highways and state-owned local roads, Governor Larry Hogan today announced $1.97 billion for highways and bridges from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore. The priority projects, which will get underway by 2018, include $1.35 billion in new projects going to construction and $625 million in preserved projects. The $1.35 billion in new projects includes $845 million for major projects and $500 million to fix bridges and improve roads.

The $1.97 billion in 84 projects includes:

  • $790 million for 10 projects that support economic development
  • $250 million to repave 1,959 lane miles of highway
  • $355 million to improve safety in 25 locations
  • $25 million to fix drainage and keep roads from flooding in 10 locations
  • $355 million for 13 projects to improve traffic flow
  • $195 million to repair 26 bridges

MACo anticipates some of this new funding would be used for a phased-in restoration of local highway user revenues. MACo has advocated for the restoration of funding for local roads and bridges over the past several years, including those located in Baltimore City, whose revenue loss was greater than any other jurisdiction.

 

Supreme Court Issues Ruling on Fair Housing Act

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling today upholding disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The ruling has significant ramifications on the interpretation of discrimination under the FHA, and on local housing policies and zoning laws.

The case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, arose from a law suit brought by a Texas nonprofit that advocates for housing low-income families against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The issue centered on how the department distributes tax credits for low-income housing.

As reported in The Washington Post:

In the 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ruled that the 1968 Fair Housing Act doesn’t solely ban overt discrimination in the housing market. The court said the law can also prohibit seemingly race-neutral policies that have the effect of disproportionately harming minorities and other protected groups, even if there is no overt evidence of bias behind them.

“The Court acknowledges,” Kennedy wrote, “the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society.”

The decision upholds a legal strategy that civil rights groups and the federal government have used for four decades to fight lending practices, local housing policies and zoning laws that have had the effect of limiting housing options available to minorities. Lower courts have repeatedly agreed that the Fair Housing Act allows such “disparate impact” claims, but the Supreme Court had not weighed in on the question until now.

Analysis of the ruling and on disparate impact can be found on the Scotus Blog:

Although it has always been clear that the Act outlawed housing discrimination when the landlord, developer, or government agency acted with the specific intent to discriminate, a question has lingered whether the law also allowed claims of “disparate impact” — that is, claims that a given housing policy or decision had a more negative impact on race (or other protected categories) than on others seeking housing, even though there was no proof of an intent to discriminate.

Every federal appeals court that had ruled on the issue had upheld such “disparate impact” claims, and Congress was aware of that when it amended the Act in 1988 without changing its basic terms.  That fact figured importantly in Thursday’s decision, with the Court majority concluding that Congress accepted that such claims were valid under the law, and did nothing to bar them.

For more information read the full article in The Washington Post and on Scotus Blog.

Previous coverage on Conduit Street: Supreme Court Hears Case Concerning Fair Housing Act

Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council Begins Work On Major Corrections Reforms

The Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC) held its first meeting on June 22, 2015, and set out an aggressive schedule to review the State’s sentencing structure and make recommendations to reduce Maryland’s prison population, improve criminal justice outcomes, and reduce needless correctional spending.  The JRCC was created by emergency legislation SB 602 (Chapter 42) of 2015.  SB 602 requires the JRCC to make its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by December 31, 2015.

The Chair of the JRCC is Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention Executive Director Christopher Shank.  Legislative members include Delegates Erek Barron, Kathleen Dumais, Michael Malone, and Geraldine Valentino Smith and Senators Michael Hough, Nathaniel McFadden, Douglas Peters, and Robert Zirkin.  Local representatives include Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry, Queen Anne’s County Department of Corrections Director LaMonte Cooke, and Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Director Robert Green.  Other members represent the Office of the Public Defender, State’s Attorneys, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Office of the Attorney General, and justice advocates.

Agenda for JRCC Meeting

Shank noted that while there has been an approximate 10% reduction in Maryland’s state prison population in the last decade, the state is still faced with significant corrections costs and a recidivism rate above 40%.  Shank noted that leaders of the General Assembly, the Administration of Governor Larry Hogan, and the Judiciary had previously sent a letter to the Public Safety Performance Project within the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) and the United States Department of Justice requesting that Pew provide the JRCC with technical assistance and data during the 2015 interim.  Pew accepted and provided data on national incarceration and recidivism rates and the efforts of other states that have recently undertaken corrections reform.  In particular, Pew focused on the reform efforts of Mississippi and Utah.

Letter to Pew Requesting Technical Assistance

Pew Presentation to JRCC

Pew representatives stated that their next step for Maryland would be to conduct: (1) a drivers analysis for Maryland to see what is driving the prison population (including admissions, duration of incarceration, and population demographics); and (2) a community corrections analysis to see what happens to offenders under community supervision.  Green asked Pew about including local jail data and Pew responded that if local jurisdictions could provide them the data, they would be happy to incorporate it into their analyses.  Berry asked if local jurisdictions in the other states that have undertaken corrections reform have also seen decreases in their jail populations  and Pew responded that the local jurisdictions in those states expressed similar concerns that inmate populations not simply be shifted from state prisons to local jails.

Coverage from a June 22, 2015, Washington Post article:

“For too many individuals, incarceration becomes a way of life, in which they flounder in a cycle of recidivism. It is clear we need a new direction in how we supervise offenders,” said Christopher B. Shank, chairman of the council and head of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. “The current revolving door of the criminal justice system is a drain on our economy. We need these individuals to be contributing members of their communities. The justice reinvestment process will ensure prison beds are reserved for the most serious criminals and low-level offenders are supervised through community-based programs that are proven to be effective.” …

Shank described the council’s work as the “most ambitious and transformative” of any commission he has seen during his 16 years in Annapolis. Maryland has a recidivism rate of 40 percent and has 20,700 offenders incarcerated.

The next meeting of the JRCC is tentatively scheduled for July 29 from 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM in Annapolis. For further information about the JRCC please contact Natasha Mehu (nmehu@mdcounties.org) or Les Knapp (lknapp@mdcounties.org) at MACo.

Casino Revenues to be Awarded to Small, Minority and Women-Owned Businesses

The Department of Business and Economic Development announced this week that $11.5 million will be made available through casino revenues for investments in small, minority and women-owned businesses in fiscal 2016. The funds are being awarded to fund managers, who will then distribute the dollars to eligible businesses.

As reported by the Baltimore Business Journal,

Through the program, local fund managers can give loans or investments that will help small businesses grow locally, add jobs and contribute to the economy.

For example, Baltimore County in May awarded a $150,000 loan to food packaging company Vac Pac, which is moving from Baltimore to establish a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Howard County.

Fund manager awards are included in the article.

Governor to Make Announcement on Transportation Infrastructure Later Today

Governor Hogan has scheduled a press conference for 2:30 pm this afternoon to make an announcement about “transportation infrastructure.” While aides would not confirm, many speculate that the announcement will be his decision on whether to move forward with the building of the Washington suburbs Purple Line project.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun,

The fate of that light rail line is regarded by many as intertwined with that of the $2.9 billion Baltimore Red Line project. The governor expressed doubts during last year’s campaign whether Maryland can afford either project.

Since taking office, Hogan has asked Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn to scrutinize the two projects to see whether they can be built for less money and to recommend whether to move forward with construction. Both lines have undergone extensive planning and engineering and have been found eligible for federal funding of roughly $900 million each. The state would have to contribute most of the rest.

From the Washington Post,

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn had recommended to Hogan that he approve building the Purple Line, at a cost that is lower than current estimates.

Rahn suggested reducing the $2.45 billion price tag by $300 million, and asking Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to pay a greater share of the costs.

Regional Council Developing Plan for Federal Broadband and Transportation Grants

The Executive Director of the Upper Shore Regional Council (USRC), Doris Mason, met with Cecil County council members earlier this week to discuss the need for an economic plan to bring in federal grant funding for broadband and transportation projects. The USRC is a planning council for Cecil, Kent, and Queen Anne’s Counties.

As reported by the Cecil Whig,

A Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) is needed before this three-county region can be considered for any funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Mason explained.

Mason laid out a timetable, which includes creating a strategy committee, developing a CEDS plan, getting that plan reviewed by the public and submitting it for approval.

The USRC could begin applying for grants next spring if the plan is approved.

Call for Speakers – RMC’s 2015 Rural Summit “Aspire Maryland”

The Rural Maryland Council (RMC) is looking for speakers for its 2015 Rural Summit entitled “Aspire Maryland”. Proposals are due July 1, 2015.

RMC logoThe announcement from RMC states,

The Rural Maryland Council will be hosting a one-day conference on Thursday, December 3, 2015 at the DoubleTree by Hilton located at 210 Holiday Court in Annapolis, Maryland.

The theme of our conference is “Aspire Maryland.”  We want to know what you or your organization are doing to positively address topics like

  • Agriculture
  • Broadband implementation and access
  • Youth Engagement
  • Workforce and Economic Development
  • Community Development
  • Health Care
  • Energy

We know there are a number of wonderful organizations doing great work.  We invite you to collaborate and share your stories.  Please visit our Conference page to download the guidelines.  Proposals are due on or before July 1, 2015.   Please do not hesitate to submit your proposal online.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.  You can reach us at rmc.mda@maryland.gov or by calling (410) 841-5772.

The 2015 Rural Summit will bring together an estimated 100+ professionals and grass root individuals from throughout Rural Maryland.

Stakeholders include rural citizens; State and local government leaders; grass root, nonprofit organizations that work in rural communities; and professionals representing health care, economic development, agriculture, forestry, workforce development, and community development.

Our goal is to provide networking opportunities, dissemination of information and resources, and the opportunity to collaboratively affect change and help guide future legislative agendas that affect rural people and communities.

American Rivers Urges Maryland Congressional Delegation to Oppose Federal Hydropower Bill Over Conowingo Concerns

In a June 23, 2015, op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, American Rivers President and CEO Bob Irvin urged Maryland’s federal legislators to oppose proposed legislation that would remove the ability of Maryland to exercise licensing and oversight authority over the Conowingo Dam, including for water quality violations.  In general, S. 1236 “The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2015″ would remove the ability of states to play a direct role in the relicensing of hydroelectric facilities before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  The bill was introduced by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and heard by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on May 19.

In the op-ed, Irvin argued the importance of Maryland’s presence as part of the relicensing process and asked legislators to join with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in opposition to the bill:

What’s at stake for Marylanders? Exelon Corporation is currently seeking a new 46-year license from FERC to operate the Conowingo Dam, located at the head of the bay near the Pennsylvania border. It needs Maryland to certify that the dam’s operations will not violate state water quality standards before FERC can grant the license. Right now, our state officials and natural resource agencies have the authority to negotiate for changes to the license that benefit Marylanders and the bay. …

Nearly 200 million tons of sediment are trapped behind Conowingo, and during big storms large quantities of this sediment are flushed into the bay. Maryland is pressing Exelon to agree to clean up the dam before the state will sign off on the new license. If Congress passes the proposed bill, Maryland’s authority disappears, and Exelon gets to pass the costs of dealing with the dam’s pollution along to taxpayers. …

Fortunately, the state of Maryland is fighting back. Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration understand the importance of the Conowingo Dam’s Water Quality Certification and are standing up for Maryland and for the Chesapeake Bay by opposing this damaging legislation. Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles and Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton recently sent letters to Congress pointing out that the legislation being considered would relegate states to “bystander or second-class status” with regard to protecting water quality. For defending Maryland’s right to protect our waters, Governor Hogan deserves our thanks.

Maryland’s congressional delegation should join with Governor Hogan in opposing this legislation. Rarely do our senators and members of Congress have to defend the bay from such a blatant attempt to roll back environmental protections. Fifty percent of the bay’s fresh water flows down the Susquehanna River and over the Conowingo Dam. The new federal license for Conowingo offers Maryland a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring the dam into compliance with modern laws and standards for environmental protection. Maryland cannot afford to lose its authority to protect the Chesapeake Bay from Conowingo’s pollution.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition also submitted comments in opposition to the legislation on June 17, 2015.

 

 

Prince George’s County Housing Market Sees Strong Rebounds from Hitting Bottom in 2011

From hitting bottom in 2011, housing prices in Prince George’s County have risen 60% — one of the strongest rebounds in the mid-Atlantic. As reported in The Baltimore Business Journal:

New data from Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. shows the median price of a house or a condo that sold in Prince George’s County in May was up 12 percent from May 2014, to $243,000. Sales were up 3 percent and the number of residential properties on the market is down 29 percent from a year ago.

And sellers in Prince George’s County are largely getting what they want, with the average list to sale price in May of 99.1 percent.

Chart Courtesy Long & Foster, Baltimore Business Journal
Chart Courtesy Long & Foster, Baltimore Business Journal

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Business Journal.

Wilson Appointed Commissioner for Queen Anne’s County District 1

On June 23, Jack Wilson was appointed District 1 County Commissioner for Queen Anne’s County by Governor Larry Hogan.

wilson
Jack Wilson, Courtesy of MyEasternShoreMD.com

According to MyEasternShoreMD.com,

Todd Mohn, acting county administrator, confirmed that the governor’s office called Tuesday morning with news that Wilson had been appointed. He was nominated for the post on June 6 by the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee and his name was sent to the governor who made the appointment.

The governor’s office said that Wilson’s official commission is being sent and once it is received arrangements can be made for him to be sworn into office, Mohn said.

“It’s very humbling and I’m looking forward to working for the people of Queen Anne’s County,” Wilson said. “I thank the governor for his vote of confidence.”

He said his goal is to “try and move things ahead for the county and its people.”

Previous coverage regarding Wilson’s nomination for commissioner can be found on MACo’s blog, Conduit Street: Wilson Gets Central Committee Nod for Queen Anne’s County Commissioner.